Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Going Along for the Ride

I don’t know if it’s the same for other writers, but I’m coming down the home stretch of my first novel and pretty much all I think about are the characters in it. I don’t mean think as in “I wonder how I can develop this character…” I mean I think about them as if they’re real people.

Instead of me defining the characters, they’re telling me who they are.

This is such an interesting experience — whether or not it’s any good remains to be seen, but I’m having fun growing and learning how to become a better writer.

The scarcity of posts to this blog reflects my total immersion in this experience.

How to be a Successful Artist

Hint: You have to make a lot of shit. Like, really a lot.

Let’s put it another way: As soon as you complete one piece, the next day you want start a new one. Better yet – keep a notebook of ideas for new stuff so you have a backlog of projects waiting to be completed.

And if no one seems interested in what you’re doing, all the better. ‘Cause then you get to walk around thinking about these new worlds you’re creating and feeling sorry for everyone who doesn’t get to live like this.

The act of discovery and personal growth is a very potent high.

As a bonus, it’s a buzz with no negative side effects.

Does the world need new art?

Who gives a fuck! I’ll tell you what the world does need. It needs more people creating cool shit.

So yeah – there’s that.

Asking the Wrong Question

Why is CGI in movies so often irritating?

Hint: Why does attempting to recreate acoustic instruments with sampling or physical modeling always fall short of the visceral impact of hearing the real thing?

The answer to the first question lies in the second.

It’s a doomed mistake to use the incredibly powerful digital tools at our disposal to try and recreate known reality.

The answer is to use this technology to create new worlds we’ve never experienced, not to weakly attempt to recreate something we’ve already seen.

With film, you might think, “Well, I’ve never seen a 300 foot tall dinosaur that breathes radioactive fire before.”

Fair enough – IMHO the 300 foot tall dinosaur works precisely because it doesn’t exist in real life. But even in this case, if the CGI doesn’t convincingly create a believable world with its own sense of logic, it too fails.

What we want here is a total immersion in a new reality we’ve never seen before.

That’s what technology is for.

Not to recreate something that’s already been done.

The Process is the Thing, Dummy

Why can’t everyone see how good my (insert art here) is? Why don’t they love it as much as me? If no one likes it, does that mean it’s bad?

Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Wrong questions, wrong assumptions.

You know that thrill you get when you make something?

That’s the point. The whole point.

Rinse and repeat.

What happens after you make something is out of your hands. You might think you have some control over it, and you do to a very small extent.

But you have zero control over whether anyone likes it.

So you’re left with the joy you experienced creating it.

Isn’t that enough?

Thoughts on Writing a Novel (Part 1)

At the risk of stating the obvious: It’s not a short story. Short stories are a particular thing; a very disciplined form of fiction, some of which is inherently tied to word count. If you can’t write beyond a certain amount of words, the whole piece must be pruned to meet that requirement. This inherent limitation gives the art form a condensed punch if it’s done right.

A novel, on the other hand, has a lot more space to play with. Kind of unlimited, really. That’s both good and bad, mainly good. At least for me. But all that space creates its own kind of problem, i.e., it’s easy to go down blind alleys and veer off course. Or is it off course? You never really know until the thing is done because some blind alleys end up showing you what the thing is supposed to be in a way your conscious mind can’t.

I’m deep in the woods here, being carried along by the momentum of the story and its characters. I have no idea whether it’s going to be any good or not, but it’s a lot of fun stretching my legs in all that space.

Here’s Something to Think About

Who, or what, benefits by confusing the general population?

Let me be clear: I don’t think that part of the population is unable to think critically, but clearly they were never taught how. In the absence of critical thinking, conspiracy theories seem to stimulate the same part of the brain, albeit in a clumsy, inelegant way.

Or, let’s ask this question from a different perspective: Were online social networks designed to divide and spread misinformation to the masses, or was that an organic consequence of humans interacting with the algorithms?

Tragic

The first time I met you, I thought, Well, here’s a special one.

You were clearly very smart and mature beyond your years, and I was duly impressed.

My affection for you was immediate. I recognized your gifts and looked forward to watching you grow and find yourself. I hoped, in some small way, that I could at the very least encourage you to achieve your potential. You were only 25 or 26; I was already over 60 and not easily impressed.

You were just interesting and smart – always fully present whenever I interacted with you. That alone is an exceptional gift that made you so attractive.

Today was your funeral at the age of 29, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I wept for you. It’s almost impossible to process what happened, or rather, I have to accept the fact that I’ll never know.

I miss you already and will always keep you alive in my heart. I’ll honor the memory of the young woman who showed so much promise, who delighted and never ceased to impress me.

Rest In Peace, my young friend. You are gone, but will never be forgotten.

Good News & Bad News

Ok, the good news is this: I’m halfway through my first novel, and the secondary protagonist is emerging full-blown, kind off taking over the story.

Totally unplanned, and certainly unexpected, she is now so real, I’m not quite sure what she’s going to do in any given situation – I’m just hanging on for the ride

The bad news is this: I’m running out of bandwidth, and right now, the novel takes precedence over everything else. So what was a daily blog, is now becoming more and more sporadic.

It’s going to be worth it in the end, though.

The characters are starting to dictate the story to me.

Struggling

One year and four months – I’m guessing this is a predictable time frame for what I’m experiencing.

Burnout, moral injury, call it what you will – everything (except writing) has become a struggle. Especially work.

Let’s repeat that: especially work.

My ER (and I’m sure this could be said of ERs everywhere) is not in a good place.

A mass exodus of nurses post COVID has left us critically understaffed, struggling to cope with surging numbers of patients. There aren’t enough nurses to adequately care for them, which leads to further instability in what was already an unstable environment.

Patients, angry at not being seen in a timely manner, lash out at nurses drowning under unsafe patient loads. Verbal abuse and threatening behavior is the norm, heaped upon nurses struggling to practice safely without the resources to do so.

I am left feeling numb, the images of death and suffering from COVID always there, the loss of my medical director to suicide part of this senseless tragedy.

I realize this is a phase of grieving that, hopefully, will pass.

But it’s left me questioning the point of my job, and “leadership’s” tone-deaf response leaves me feeling further stranded.

The life raft is slowly coming apart, leaving one faced with the prospect of staying above water with no one to count on except yourself.

It’s a lonely feeling.

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.