a DNA that says oops

One of the many dichotomies of life: How failure really isn’t as bad as we make it out to be, while comfort is not really our friend.

Comfort Zones Suck (our lives away)

Feeling for a moment like a big fucking failure, I started re-reading one of my many success self-help books, because no one’s going to read it for me. I’m barely into the first chapter, when a sleepy creature groans and pokes it head above the debris of my life, peering out with bleary eyes.

Oh, wow, I haven’t seen this critter in a while! It’s my Hunger to Succeed.

It seems my comfort zone had been quietly lulling her to sleep with Lo-Fi music and stacking distractions up around her to hide her from view, once more trying to keep me from that scary thing called Change. Comfort zones do that. It’s their purpose, to shield us from the saber tooth tiger outside the cave.

“Just stay by the fire,” it says in our ear. “I know you’re hungry, but let someone else go hunt for food and possibly not come back. Be safe, don’t risk it.”

The comfort zone’s job is to protect us, keep us safely ensconced in our easy chairs in front of the television, where no one can break our hearts or tread on our egos. The people on the screen do all that for us now. No need to risk it ourselves anymore.

Our comfort zones are adept at sapping our confidence so we don’t put ourselves out there, and risk that most fearful of all creatures: Failure. But this is just silly.

It may sound ironic or even crazy, but without failure we’ll never know Success.

We can emulate others all we want, read their books, watch their YouTube videos, but until we put ourselves out there and actively fail at things, we won’t learn who we are, what we can do, what actually works for us in life. What our purpose is.

When We Learn to Hate Failure

Unless we were lucky enough to have a set of those truly inspired parents and teachers who know the score, most of us are brought up in a failure-unfriendly environment.

  • Classmates who jeer when you fall down, tripping up and bullying the one who fails–the supposed weak one–to keep the focus away from their own weaknesses.
  • Teachers and coaches who actively tear you down for coloring outside their lines, thinking outside their boxes, doing anything that might show you can be better at something than them.
  • Online peers who enjoy trolling and flaming your troubles as well as your accomplishments, to take the spotlight off of their own failed lives (otherwise they’d have more positive things to do and say).
  • Media content bent on Success, Success, Success! It’s all about Winning! Heaven forbid you fail at anything.
  • Commercial content bent on telling you what a failure you are … if you don’t buy and use their product to “fix” the situation.
  • Loving parents who only want to protect their offspring from harm, from the heartbreak of being a “failure”, so they try to teach them how important it is to win at all costs.

These are not easy things to put behind us when they are ingrained in us so young. I know: I am fighting this fear of failure on a daily basis, when I’m aware I’m giving in to the fear at all.

The Face of Failure

Failure is that awkward geeky kid with the big glasses who never gets picked for the team. The kid who now owns a multi-million-dollar corporation he started in his garage. All because he didn’t waste his time conforming.

Failure is that quirky kid who made jokes in class and drew pictures in her notebook instead of memorizing dates and names she would never ever need in real life; whose paintings now hang on a gallery wall and will create their own history.

Failure is how entrepreneurs become millionaires–or happy average people living their dreams. These people try everything, embrace the entire process as an adventure, including the failures. They know every attempt provides a lesson in what does and doesn’t work.

I want to be like them when I grow up.

It’s In Our DNA

There’s this string of organic programming that defines the form of all life on this planet, a string of molecules so complex it takes a supercomputer to unravel–and it was created from failure.

DNA makes mistakes all the time, called mutations. All life on this planet evolved from our DNA “learning” which of these random “defects” thrived. Without these mutations, life never would have happened, much less become anything complex or sentient.

We were created to fail! And that’s awesome. The problem is our view of failure, as a negative thing.

Our comfort zone, and the comfort zones of many of the people around us, cry out for safety. Don’t risk anything. Stay out of harm’s way. Don’t live. Don’t evolve. Die safe and unhappy and unfulfilled.

Wait… is this what we’re here for?

Find Success through Failure

Fuck that. Fail. Fail with abandon! Try awesome impossible things bound to fail!

Because once you get that forward momentum going, the little successes will start happening, too, more and more often as you learn what didn’t work; because, like Captain Marvel, you didn’t give up.

The only real failure is giving up before you get there.

And when you accidentally fall across one of those crazy impossible things that doesn’t fail? Then you will have found a thing no one else has found, because they were afraid to try: Your seed to Success.

If at first you don’t succeed; keep on sucking ’til you do succeed!

— Curly, from The Three Stooges

Evolution: It’s not just for DNA anymore.

Where we poke fun at one fine fallacy that keeps us from enjoying our full potential, because we don’t know any better.

“I can’t … “

You can put just about anything after those two words… I can’t draw. I can’t swim. I can’t write. I can’t fly. I can’t drive a manual stick shift. I can’t roller skate. I can’t juggle wombats.

I don’t know when we first pick up that phrase, but I imagine for most of us it was pretty early on. And those things we learn early on are hard to shake, too. Like shyness, or comic books, or an aversion to broccoli.

I remember as early as kindergarten, there was already that peer pressure to compare our creative work with the work of others. We look over and notice the next kid’s finger-painting has a nuance ours can barely aspire to. And that little girl can stack blocks in a more collinear fashion than seems natural.

The embarrassment at such a young age, when adults expect so much of us, like remembering the order of words, or this staying vertical on two too tiny feets thing. It’s simply so much easier to sit down, stick our lip out, and give up on the whole idea to save ourselves further embarrassment.

“I can’t,” we say. I wonder who taught us those words?

Well meaning (or clueless) teachers or parents might tut-tut and simply agree with us, offering thoroughly unhelpful comforts, like “I guess your sister got all the talent for that in the family,” or “you’ll never make a living doing that anyway,” or “I’ll never get that paint off the cat.”

Actually, I think I heard the middle one later on, regarding something I could do… never mind.

Perhaps we gave it a really good try, but the right mentor wasn’t handy at that moment to ease us over the one tiny bump to “I can”. Perhaps we were on our way there, but some jealous person decided to insult our efforts at a sensitive moment. Perhaps we simply lost our patience.

And “I can’t” was ready.

My Can’t

I know, I’ve been there. In fact, to illustrate my point, I thought I’d publicly pick on a person who has claimed her whole life that she can’t draw.

“All my people look like stick figures,” she’d say, completely ignoring the popularity of XKCD, or the guy who trained Matt Murdock. No, wait…

I won’t name any names here, but– Okay, it’s me! Are you satisfied?! And I can’t draw! [pause for Non-drawers Anonymous greeting] “I’m a writer,” I say. “I don’t need to draw stuff” [sits down dejectedly.]

Then one day I write this cute short animated script about a boy and his dog, and some strange piranha, and a girl in a box… It’s a kind of an apocalyptic love story. You know the kind.

It had workshopped really well and I was getting excited to see it made into a PIXAR-like short… when I realized I don’t know how to make that process happen. I don’t know any animators, and we’ve already established I can’t draw.

My palette is a keyboard; my canvas a text editor.

Still, if I could somehow get someone interested, I thought naively, the cute story wouldn’t go to waste.

So I went looking for ways to get the project some attention. Actually, I’m still looking. But along the way, I fell across The Storyboard. I was intrigued by the rough sketches, used by the best directors and animators to plan a movie or an animated film.

I noticed that most of them looked all scribbly and stuff … so, perhaps even I could … no. Well, maybe.

Wanna See Something Pathetic?

(I knew you would. Sadists.)

So I tried my hand at this thing. I bought a sketchbook at the Dollar Store for a buck, because that’s how much I thought this venture would be worth. I drew a horizontal line halving all 50 pages of it in ink. And then I got to scribbling.

As predicted, I ended up with round-headed stick figures on squirrely bits of scenery (I’m okay doing buildings and stuff), like this one:

I know, right? Ugh~!

Oh, the derision and laughter I endured. (I can be pretty awful, to myself.)

But then I thought, I’ve gone this far, I should “stick” it out … (hehe). In the end, it would take just about all 50 pages (100 panels) to cover the entire story.

And Then Something Happened

Let me back up ten panels…

One day, around panel #90 or so, I began to notice something weird happening: Somewhere along the way my characters’ heads stopped being Charlie-Brown-round. They started looking human, with expressions and stuff.

I flipped back and realized, against all odds, I had drawn the same thing so often–badly–that my fingers had slowly rebelled, and through muscle memory or some other magical hokum, they began to draw things more better. More real. More cute. More like the way I saw it in my head:

Okay, not phenomenally better, I admit. But enough to make me realize I needed to go back and re-draw all of the round-heads to match the later ones. Once I got over the shock.

Somehow, through practice or patience, I had taken my first humble step towards The Impossible: I felt I was drawing!

So, I’m currently redrawing a lot of panels for consistency, noticing my background settings had improved, too. I’m still not sure where to find an interested animator who wants to bag a cute apocalyptic short–with piranha–for their demo reel, but at least I’ll be prepared if I ever fall in a pond with them (the animator, not the piranha–I hope).

There’s a moral to this story somewhere . . . Oh, yeah:

If you think you can’t do something, something you feel you might actually enjoy doing? Try it. Try a bunch of times. Maybe 100. Be easy on yourself, use cheap materials, be messy (fuck perfection), do small things–a lot. Just do it for fun.

Eventually you will see: You are awesome at whatever you practice. Practice doesn’t really make perfect, practice makes it happen.

And I believe in you! ^_^


P.S., if you’re an animator and curious? I’m planning on sharing the storyboards as an exclusive on my Patreon page soon. And/or the script. I’m still figuring out what people want to see there. ^_^

First quantum toast experiment

This paper is an attempt to explain the ubiquitous nature of [Quantum] Toast. In fact this so-called theory is so incontrovertible, it is barely appropriate to call it a theory. The “Universal Law of Quantum Toast” might be more apropos. Or perhaps “Quantum Toast Physics”. Or “Dude, Make Me Some Quantum Toast!” In any event, the concept of Quantum Toast is so unfathomably obvious, it is barely worth taking the time to explain the truly ubiquitous nature of Quantum Toast.

So I won’t. Although perhaps an example would help those of us who have mysteriously not yet grasped the obvious nature of Quantum Toast:

Imagine a piece of bread. This scenario has barely any cosmic value whatsoever. But inject said bread into an average toaster, or a greater than average toaster oven. Activate said toaster. Suddenly, moments later, you find yourself in the presence of Toast.

Ah, you begin to see the cosmic significance!

Toast, by itself is the epicenter of human perception when crispiness is at hand. Placing an object on toast, say butter, or jam, or an egg, or a meatball, or cheese, or even—gasp—a slice of onion, or perhaps a smattering of peanut butter . . . Suddenly you are wondering how this toast has somehow gained it’s true nature. Surely the toast embodies the apex of true matter and energy in the universe.

In fact, again and again in random taste tests, freshly toasted toast has been found to occupy the very center of universal awareness, at least for a moment. There have been theories that anything placed on toast, even perhaps … a human of your desired gender, has been found to also attain at least a temporary state of centered-universedness. Often ecstatically so.

I thus come to the inevitable conclusion that toast is in fact the Center of the Universe.

Studies continue to look into the possibility that toast therefore contains all of the dark matter that has been theorized but never before found in the universe. But a few scrapings of slightly overdone toast has revealed bits of dark matter that may explain this deficit to-date. Some even surmise that further overcooking of the toast may create a toaster-centered black hole, but scientists are hesitant as yet to test this theory without proper containment. Stayed tuned.

In an unspecified sheep field in the Welsh countryside, scientists are even now constructing a huge quantum-field toaster that will be able to toast a toast to the precise level of overtoastedness, to create the first toasted black hole. Less educated citizens are sadly unsupportive of this important work and are picketing the site, but the theory of Quantum Toast—albeit barely a theory at all in its obviousness—is expected to find universal acceptance, once everyone realizes that toast is in fact the obvious center of the universe.

And anyone ingesting said toast will, for the moment, occupy that universal center, simultaneously.

Practical uses for this phenomena are mind-boggling. So much so that we are still awaiting our best minds to become un-boggled enough to identify the first practical use. Expectations are high, much like the scientists “studying” this phenomenon.

In the meantime, it is recommended that you exercise care in the amount of dark matter you create in your own toaster and to properly butter your toast before placing a desired partner upon it. Quantum Toast is there to be enjoyed by all.

(Dedicated to the inspiration of friend Riley, whose discovery of the utter significance of toast will change the face of history and presumably the very laws of physics. We will be eternally grateful.)

crunch crunch crunch

References

Toast!

What is so cool about Zero. I mean, it’s nothing. Zilch. Nada.

I think zero is cool because, for a while, humans weren’t sure if it was a number at all. Back in the day (when people were still getting used to writing “AD” on their checks), the Greeks were all philosophical about the meaning of nothing as a something, while other math-users on the planet were trying all kinds of slashes and stuff to fill the “holes” where we put zeroes now; while others were trying to do math without it altogether, and experiencing hair loss…

But the coolest thing of all seems to be that the lovely donuty shape of zero came from such a meaningful visual image: it’s a drawing of a hole with nothing inside.

Secretly I think they knew even then that donuts had no nutritional value, but they had to commemorate them anyway. Because … donut!

(A Six-Word Memoir for an autobiographical monthly contest entitled “I’m from [enter four words here].” #I’mFromInSix )

It was a good four decades after the blessed event. We were gathered from afar to mourn my father’s passing; my mother, three siblings and myself sitting around a restaurant table quietly pondering our shared past. There were some bad memories and some really good ones, all mixed together the way life does to keep things interesting.

At a time like this we’d inevitably reminisce far enough back we’d reach the beginning. With a little prodding from my sister, my mom let slip, “Yeah, you all were accidents.”

It’s not as if this doesn’t happen all the time. Admittedly it was much harder to deal with back then, when the church considered itself the owner of our social values. I can barely imagine my mom’s courage and fortitude bringing up four unplanned tax credits to adulthood, often on her own. And despite her misgivings for not doing a better job in retrospect–like we all do–we all turned out pretty damn good. We all do the best with what we have at the moment.

That probably wasn’t what we were thinking at that moment, of course.

“Thanks, mom,” we said, in unison.

Despite the sad day, after a moment we started laughing. Dad would have loved the humor, survived by these happy accidents.