Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

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.

Interiority

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.

Giving Up vs Accepting Reality

The nuanced view is to recognize that they’re two different things.

As a nurse, I can tell you there comes a point where recognizing the inevitability of death becomes a relief. When the battle with disease is lost, continuing to suffer through futile medical interventions is only going to deprive you from any moments of peace you might have left.

Accepting one’s fate, however, isn’t the same thing as giving up. It still allows for meaningful life, no matter how brief it may be.

Viewed in this light, giving up seems to be a self-defeating stance. But I get it – there is only so much pain and suffering one can endure before coping resources run out and exhaustion sets in. Think of the person in chronic pain, for example.

So if you ever feel like giving up, recognize this as a temporary state. You need a respite, some way to regroup and recharge your inner resources.

How to do that is whole other topic – but I think it’s possible.

Estranged

Saw a character in a movie
Reminded me of you
Was a murderous psychopath
Don’t get in touch

Daily Checklist

  1. Did you create something?
  2. Did you help someone else?

That’s really it, and you don’t even have to do both, although that would be ideal.

Accomplish point one or two and call it a good day.

Don’t and it was wasted.

Your choice. It’s not that hard.

Ok, I’ve Got To Get This Off My Chest

The lamest phrase in the English language, the cliche that makes me cringe whenever I hear it or read it. Particularly when it’s in a script.

I promise.

Really – you promise what? Like you can now control space and time? Like I promise everything will be all right?

Well here’s a news flash dimwit – no one can ever promise anything, ‘cuz no one has any fucking control over what happens in this life, particularly tragedy.

I promise – Jesus, anyone that says that to me is going home on the short bus.

Here’s what you can promise: We’re in this together, and I won’t abandon you when you need me the most.

How Much Time do You Have Left? (Part 1)

This question is an idle time waster until you reach a certain age, at which point the exercise becomes all too real. Painfully real.

How much time?

And what would you do with it?

The answer is, of course, unknowable. But it’s a safe bet that it’s probably less than you think.

It’s probably good to start thinking about this as the clock begins winding down.

What indeed.

Organizing Reality

“People crave stories because what stories do is organize experiences in ways that make them make sense.”

– Seth Rogen

Don’t Give Up Your Joy

Haters are gonna hate. Some people just aren’t going to support what you do – they may even actively try to tear you down. It sucks and is beyond your control.

But you know what they cannot take? No one can take the joy you get from doing your job well, or the joy you get from creating.

You have to give it to them.

If you lose it, it’s your fault.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Don’t feel good? Maybe you’ve got undeniable health issues and you’re always in pain. Now what? When can you get back to what’s important to you?

Well, here’s how this works. You’ve either got to learn to work with what you’ve got, or give the fuck up. No one wants that, right?

So here’s how to proceed:

One. Step. At. A. Motherfucking. Time.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Nobody ever said life would be easy, and if they did they were lying.

Your Unique Filter

Everything you experience and all you create passes through this filter. The filter is you, but it’s deeper than your consciousness. It’s made up of everything that goes into it.

This is why no two people will ever come up with the same thing, even if they try. The more specific and developed your filter is, the more unique its sensibility becomes.

But…

The paradox is that this uniqueness actually makes whatever passes through it more, not less, interesting to other people.

The more specific you are, the more charismatic you become to others.

Welcome to the Club

“A man in a suit, wearing beautifully shined shoes, took me aside and gave me his business card. He was a veterinarian, and explained that becoming a vet in France was not an easy process. He’d applied to the academy seven times before being accepted. In celebration his advisers and instructors had thrown a party in his honor in one of the laboratories.

They’d drunk wine, and the group had congratulated him roundly on his entry into the program. And at some point someone had given him a glass of wine doctored with a sedative. Because this is the tradition. He’d fallen asleep, and they’d removed his clothes and trundled his naked, sleeping body into a fetal position. Then they’d carefully, meticulously tucked him and stitched him into the gutted belly of a newly dead horse. “When you wake,” he told me, “you have no idea where you are at.” Your head pounds from the sedative. You’re shivering with cold. It’s dark and stinks so horribly you can’t take a deep breath. You’re compressed so tightly you can’t move, and you want to vomit but there’s not even space for that. Still, you can hear voices.

Beyond this dark, cramped space your professors and advisers are still having their party, and the moment they see you move inside the tight skin of the horse they begin to shout. “So, you think it’s so easy to be one of us!” they shout. They taunt, “You can’t just fill out some papers and become a veterinarian!” From all around you, unseen, they shout, “You’ve got to fight to join our profession!” As they demand you fight, calling, “Fight! Fight!” you begin to struggle and push against whatever is binding you.

And as you claw a hole in the tough, dead hide you feel someone press a glass of wine into your bloody hand. Slowly, you’re forced to birth yourself, naked and bloody, from this dead animal. And once you’re out your companions cheer you and accept you with genuine warmth, and you continue, naked and bloody, to celebrate, having earned your place in their ranks.

This man in Paris, with his business card and shined shoes, explained why the tradition exists. This grotesque, age-old ritual. Because it creates a shared baseline experience that will someday be a comfort. In the future, no matter how many beautiful little puppies or kittens die under your care, no matter how heart wrenching your job might feel, it will never feel as horrible as waking up inside a cold, dead horse.”

– Chuck Palahniuk

The Iterative Process

The more you run something through the filter of who you are – not the filter of your consciousness, but the filter of you that existed before you were born, the you that exists with no ego, the pure you – the more personal and unique it becomes. It’s a paradox that the more specific your art is, the wider its appeal.

The you with no ego is important – ego just gets in the way. You don’t need to understand and be able to explain everything. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. There’s a reason why David Lynch doesn’t talk about his work.

The application of a thousand tiny changes will morph anything that starts out anonymous and clunky into something like a diamond – a pure expression filled with mystery and truth, timeless, undeniable.

Grinding it out, one small change at a time.

I’ll warn you, though – it’s not for the faint of heart. You’ve got a be willing to play a long game and listen to what your voice is telling you. Even if you don’t understand it.

The rewards are worth it.

Here’s a Weird Corollary For You

When I write, often I’ll transfer what I’m working on to my iPhone — there’s something about reading your stuff on a different medium, preferably in a different place, that makes the flaws obvious. I’ll make edits, then transfer these changes back to the copy on my computer.

When producing music, particularly at the mixing stage, you want to listen to it on different playback devices in environments outside the studio. Doing so makes the flaws obvious.

Same process, different modes of expression.

Perhaps the change in environment is the biggest factor.

Just a thought.