Explode into Space - Newsletter #1

Dear Readers,

Already I've learned something here on the road. Well, actually, I've cemented it because it has always made me cringe. I have a problem with the word "interest". Social networks, college activity fairs, and even job interviews want to know your interests. What interests you is what they ask, as if it's supposed to be some magical combination of no more than three separate items. Base-jumping, Camping, Kayaking. Horticulture, Meteorology, Weed. Beer, Women, Beer. We all have our limiting factors, but "interest" does little to define me.

Everything interests me in the vaguest sense. Ham radio? Sure. Latin American politics? Why not? For me to say I'm not interested in something is too dramatic. At least, that's what I thought until the entire world was in my hands. Suddenly, it was too heavy.

The stars aligned when I hit the road. I injured my back well enough to know I didn't want to do junk removal anymore. I'd been saving money for nothing in particular and I finally had my own car. Interest gave way to possibility and action. So I took it and ran.

Days later, the Renegade Handmade Festival was abuzz with excitement in Wicker Park (Chicago's Williamsburg, Brooklyn for my Northeast buddies). Karen and I moozyed through the entire 300+ stands way too slowly for the hot September sun. Karen is the best friend I made during the days I lived in Brooklyn, through the Couchsurfing social network. I surfed through her section in Washington Heights, NY once but moreso she was someone I could bounce ideas and thoughts off of for hours. A true friend, she opened her home to me when I made it outside of Chicago in the suburb of New Lenox.

We stopped for alcohol fuel every couple of blocks at the festival. I was seeing the other side of my junk universe. For months I had been tossing what these artists had been manipulating into endlessly clever transformations. There were belt buckles made of Polaroid prints,  jewelry made from broken fine china, and Dr. Seuss books turned into fresh, new notebooks. It was my first glimpse at the treasure I set sail for. These were people adapting the world around them to mold their vision.

And here I was in Chicago and Ohio and Kansas, doing nothing. I was seeing the world, but barely doing more. I was more interested in unwinding from hours of constant highway drives that I had no energy to strike up conversations or explore the rainy parts of America. I had the most delicious and destructive fast-food and hit the hay. Without official plans, I'm not the guy to take action without already-present interest. Something has got to give, America.

Case in point. I spend a day in New Lenox, right outside of Chicago, at home with Karen's mother, Sue. We watched what Karen has termed "mom porn" on HGTV. Trashy in a weird way, I found all the house-flipping and home-decorating shows thrilling. It was a mash-up of unskilled nobodies trying to flip a pile of garbage into the dream home and design experts making mansions even more glamorous and gaudy. Through the lens of endless, pseudo-celebrity-hosted mom porn, I was able to consider that a career for me should be more of a project. My insatiable gauge of interest and requirement to plot out my pathways might just be the key to finding a job juggling different parts of the world.

 The weirdest single moment of my trip - Kansas City, Kansas Motel 6

The weirdest single moment of my trip - Kansas City, Kansas Motel 6

Fast forward to the end of a rough day through the midwest. I sped down Route 70 for 20 miles before remembering I'd left my journal in the bathroom of Jubelt's Bakery and Restaurant. I called the City Museum of Kansas City, Missouri ahead of time to find out their winter schedule already kicked in, so they were closed on Tuesdays. No problem, I thought, and sped to Re-runs Thrift Shop only to find out their thrift store prices are not quite as I expected. Add in a weird thudding when I turn my car too slowly to the right and nothing but fast food options for dinner in Topeka, I was a beaten boy by the time my head hit the hotel pillow. 

The pain didn't stop there. Left to my own thoughts and the glowing background of The Office on television, I couldn't help but wonder if this is real. So far away from anything I hold truly close to me - family, friends, familiarity in all ways - I felt outside myself. Is this me, laying in these cigarette-burned sheets? Is this fun? What is this? The questions kept coming rapid fire until the pit of my stomach got the tingles. 

The next day, one hundred miles in, relief came in an off-kilter way. I found myself in the type of conservative Kansas that boasted pro-life billboards along its highways as if pregnant teenagers thought speeding down the Interstate highway would save them from motherhood. Amidst the Bible-thumping was, of course, the Lion's Den, an adult superstore chain spanning halfway across America, providing us with the type of sexual perversions any boy or girl could adore.

Close to a pint of coffee coursing through my veins I made the physical effort to peel off Route 70 for a pornographic pause to my cross-country trip. Without questioning myself or my actions, which I am wont to do, I jumped into a world of colorful, graphic sex. The cashier behind the counter, let's call him Bill, was more than willing to lend a hand. I asked for a trashy novel that men could enjoy and after assuring him I wasn't looking for the male-on-male stuff, he pointed me in the direction of the trashy novels. We discussed my options like they were new shoes or car parts, simple and straight-forward. Where so many people concern sex with trash vulgarness, Bill took it as his everyday and made me feel comfortable in buying a paperback about a Vietnam Vet on a cross-country roadtrip to find himself, and instead finding two sexy sisters. I could not make this stuff up. Or could I?

As if an omen of more trash and treasure, Bill said I happened to hit the last Lion's Den around if I was heading west. I still am heading west and so far Denver had brought me the best of both worlds. My first night in the city provided what else but rain, tons of homeless strangers, and a disgusting hostel, complete with frat-boy cologne and a sketchy shower in the basement. And then, as if it drifted down from the Rockies themselves, my second night found me at Mariel's house. Mariel is a sweet-as-pie New Jerseyan that made it to Denver (and I suppose is now a Denveran to me) and never looked back. Now, her living room couch is my bed and her roommates are my new buddies. And it's Friday, friday! Gotta get down, it's Friday!

Next stop, Rocky Mountain National Park and some Denver nightlife. Wish me luck!

Until next time...
I explode into space.

-dan
 

Explode into Space - Newsletter #2

Dear Readers,

I felt like the fog of a dream was lifted when I totaled up the days. I've been on the road for two weeks. I made it across the country. Now, I've seen America. It may have been a lot of Interstate 70, but I'm sure I'm closer to really absorbing the lyrics of America, The Beautiful. California definitely does have amber waves of grain.

My first newsletter was about me and my disgust with the word "interest". For my second newsletter I want to talk about community. I guess this roadtrip hasn't felt like such a vacation or an extended trip because I've been staying and meeting up with some really great people. I saw some old friends, some acquaintances turned into better friends, and I saw my Colorado-based relatives, my great uncle Bruce and his wife Betty. The last time I saw them was thirteen years ago!

Underneath it all, it only took me two weeks to discover what that never-do-well Alexander Supertramp from the movieInto the Wild didn't until his dying breath: Happiness is only real when shared. 

I don't regret my decision to travel and drive alone. It was necessary. I'm just starting to see how I want it all to fit together. Alone time is great and I won't turn my back on it, but having a place among people is even better. I felt it when I woke up in Denver last Saturday morning. Mariel asked me to join her and her friends in a recreational volleyball league. I was glad I had enough sense to say yes.

It was bright and sunny and there were dozens of people smashing volleyballs everywhere you looked. Better yet was being part of a team that valued the fun more than winning the actual game. We played for six hours that day and I couldn't have enjoyed more! Seven hours would have been too many.

After a night's detour in Utah, I crawled through to Vegas. Let me stress one thing. Vegas is not for the lonely. Sure, it seems like the perfect antidote. They are call-girls and shows and tons of bright shiny lights and green, crisp money to distract you. The problem is that it's all too sad. It's a big plot to get as much money and time from you as physically possible. I had to walk what had to be the length of three football fields through the noisy machines of the casino floor just to get to my luggage-on-wheels in the parking garage. The buffets are never cheap considering you need to play a couple hundred dollars worth of video poker before they comp you anything. Now, I know I'm not delivering any breaking news here, it just had to be said. Likewise, the Vegas police are no help when a poor boy from New Jersey locks his keys in his car. Good thing his spare keys were sitting in his hotel room a good forty minute walk away.

Among the glitz and glam and solitary entertainment, my phone buzzed with an email from my sister, Kelly. She had read my newsletter and told me how my writing reminded her of how she was honing her own skills now in her freshman year at NJIT. It warmed my heart to know that not only did she read what I wrote but took the time to get back to me. For many, sometimes subconscious, reasons, my family is disjointed. We can go days without talking to one another in a decent functionable pattern, so you have to imagine my surprise when my sister gave me the best and longest response to my newsletter. It suddenly felt like she was along the ride with me and that's what I was trying to do all along.

But then she ended her message with the sentiment that others have dropped on me: "I hope you find what you're looking for." Everyone keeps hoping I find what I'm looking for, which to me always seems like a loaded statement. Am I looking for something? Identity? Treasure? Trouble? Could be. At first, though, I was annoyed. Here was such a nice and thoughtful response to the travel news I was putting out to my closest circle and I felt like people saw me as some kind of lost puppy. On the other hand, though, I had to realize that a lot of people were envious. I can't help but wonder if that means that people know they need to "look for something" and fail to do it because they can't hit the road themselves. 

If I had to nail down what I'm looking for it would have to be a place to fit. No, I'm not searching for a new place to settle down on the West Coast. And I would never trade my family and friends for anyone else. I just need to better understand where exactly on Earth I fit perfectly. It's sad to imagine that some people go through life without ever finding that special spot. So, I guess, after all, I am searching.

I've seen others fit perfectly into their surroundings. My final night in Denver Mariel brought me to her friend's house for a home-cooked dinner. Collin was our host and he experimented with whole wheat pasta and a very involved tomato sauce. No surprise here, I inhaled two plates full. Fast forward to dessert and I found myself shoveling mint chocolate chip ice cream with melted peanut butter on top into my mouth and watching the ending credits to Jackass 3.5. The television was muted because we'd be chatting all day with college football living in the background, and while the Jackass guys were injuring themselves and one another on the screen I had a big stupid grin on my face. I could hear in my head all the dialogue and groans and screams. Everyone in the house was silent, except for the occasional "ouch" in response, and I felt like they were stumbling upon the treasure I already had the joy to experience. To me it wasn't just about the film, it was the community experience I had of watching them repeatedly with my circle of friends back home.

The homesickness has crept in. Even as I type this, my hangover from last night's fun makes me homesick. Maybe it has something to do with wanting to be comfortable. I've been away for so long and it's not even halfway through my trip. I still have to see my Orange County godmonster (the nickname my godmother gave herself) and attend the Earthship Biotecture seminar and sit inside a giant dinosaur's mouth. When I get too homesick I like to remind myself of a quote from Adolph Coors, the man responsible for the brewing company. On my tour of the Colorado brewery, I heard a recording of Coors say, "Waste is a resource out of place." Even though he was taking about the byproducts and packaging of one of America's favorite drinks (not so much mine at the moment), his quote rings true for my entire trip. Everything has a use, a meaning, all we have to do is find it, adapt it, and apply it.

So when the question becomes what I'm searching for, I can say I'm just learning how to put myself in my proper place. 

Until next time...
I explode into space.

-dan

Explode into Space - Newsletter #3

Dear Readers, 

There is no better place right now than on the back of my car. Freight carts are rolling through town, vibrating the surface beneath me. The light breeze of the night is what I would call perfect weather, day or night. Cars sporadically zip by on the road and air conditioners hum in the cement teepees around me. I'm right off old Route 66 and enjoying the peace, the calm.
It's an odd culmination to a week of somewhat elegance. I bounced from San Francisco to Orange County to one of the few five-star hotel resorts in the entire continent, the  Fairmont Princess in Scottsdale, Arizona.

I've never been one to dream myself into the lap of luxury though. Like I said, here, off Route 66, almost feels like home in a strange, different-era type of way. I suppose I associated my aspirations with more simpler times. The blue-collar, white-t-shirt times of the 1950's appeals more to me than the stuffy button-up days I spent in NBC's 30 Rock after graduating college. Whether it is familial pride or a disgust for most jobs or something off in my brain, I was on the side of old-school Americana.

This is all exactly why I was in such shock as Jen Fu led a broken-jawed Dan around the Google campus. There were colorful, communal bikes for young, casual professionals to get around from building to building, where office space was just as open and accommodating as each spot's communal kitchen. There was a T-Rex model and a volleyball net. Top it off with a buffet dinner easily juggling Indian, Chinese, and Italian-American cuisine for employees and whatever schmucks they happened to bring around. I, being a schmuck, took full advantage. Something about it was so contrastingly desirable. Where a corporation could provide a relaxed work atmosphere, transportation, your meals, fitness centers, and what I'm sure is a modest salary, they could also own your days and nights.

Aside from the business tour, Jen Fu made my entire San Francisco experience memorable. We hit the town, drank it up and fist-pumped to house music till an ungodly hour of a weekday night, which is probably more like 4 AM. He was always enthusiastic, always eager to hear my plans.

What got to me was the familiarity. Where Google felt like NBC, his San Francisco apartment felt like my old Brooklyn. I lived mostly alone in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn for three months. My room was amazing, the neighborhood was friendly, and I felt like I carved out an odd place for myself in adulthood. In San Francisco I piggybacked Jen Fu's accomplishments as I cracked open his second-story window, shoveled takeout Thai food between my jaws and consumed a UFC marathon on television. It was a new dream come true. Such relaxation, such a place for me to enjoy myself.  I could see myself living in a spot like that. And that thought reminded me of something terrible. I hated Brooklyn. It was so hard to meet people. It was so taxing to commute to Manhattan and cook healthy food for myself and stay fit. It didn't make sense. My dream was incomplete. So, trying to imagine myself in San Francisco was just like seeing myself oddly miserable in Brooklyn. I felt like it didn't fit as much as I loved it.

I had to ask myself the big question, as I often do. Why? Why do I aspire to more than makes sense to me? Why do I feel at home on Route 66 with the twilight breeze and, at the same time, aspire to be a young professional adult? It's extremely important to dream big, I know, but what made me furiously introspective and upset was the disconnect between my pleasure and my own mentality. Somehow I never linked up that my contribution to society, whatever profession it may be, would afford me a beautiful, spacious apartment in a happening city without being utterly miserable and running back to New Jersey every weekend to see my only friends. For most, a career is a shared, whispered sense of misery. Everyone has to work and everyone hates it. And the leap to link a more important job to a more important salary made the most cynical and fun-bashing of people. In San Francisco I had to confront the idea that work sucks.

Pushing forward from feeling sorry for myself and defending against my hangover, I had been on the road for more than three weeks because of the good graces of my national network of friends. I was so relieved to see my crazy godmother, Liz, and her soulmate, Mike, that I feel back into some relaxed limbo. On one more-than-intoxicating night my godmother assured me that my road troubles were normal. It was easy to get depressed when you're far from everything you've known to be normal. She gave me the reassurance I needed to know I was doing something important for more than myself. She said my mother was in awe of me, and whether or not those are the words my mother has used to describe me, I'll take it. I want to inspire awe. I want to raise awareness, create interest. There is more to life than we will ever know.

And that leads me to a place I barely know, Arizona. Hotter than Hades, I drove my hours to Scottsdale. Months ago, Trazzler, a new social network based around travel review, awarded me five nights at Fairmont hotels somewhere in North America for my contribution about a New Jersey tea shop. I won it fair and square. Now here I found myself, shaggy and sweating, in an extremely classy joint.

Career aside, I used to take pride in the class divide. Who was to say anyone had it better than another? Sure, there were differences, I just happened to side with the blue collar for some unfounded reasons. Maybe it was the thought that not every powerful millionaire had to be stuffed uncomfortably in a three-piece suit. I wanted to be the famed figure with a simple style and a fierce prospective.

In I walked to my five-star pad and again I was left lost. My bed was fit for a king. My mini fridge was stocked so tight I had to juggle snacks to keep my leftover Chinese food preserved. The view, the bellhop said, was absolutely the best in the resort. Forget the water fountains and fire below, Arizona is a microcosm from my cushioned patio chair. And again I wondered, is this right?

Of course, the reason I have to answer all these big questions is because I won't be on the road for ever. Back in the Garden State, there are friends and family and strangers expecting my return with stories and life lessons and recommendations for their own future adventures. And I can't wait. But in the meantime, I have to carve out my own landing strip. 

The monster in the mirror is my flawed imagination. I have to convince myself still that there is nothing wrong with wanting more in this life. I felt half-hearted in dreaming of bringing a future girlfriend to the Scottsdale Princess without the need for a free ticket, us being able to enjoy the patio view. Why? I've often built dreams into structures to be forever remodeled. Somewhere down the road there is a place where my dreams will come to me as easily as this Route 66 breeze and I have a great feeling it's just around the corner.

Until next time...
I explode into space.

-dan

Explode into Space - Newsletter #4

Dear Readers,

Yes, my friends, the end has arrived. And what have we learned?

There is more to say than I can contain in a couple of emailed paragraphs, for sure. I don't want to wrap this whole trip up too quickly, but I definitely do. Traveling across the country has been a dream of mine for years. Now that I've accomplished it, it's time to sit down and think, what else, what's next.

The whole concept behind becoming a well-traveled American man was to find value. A pirate among the seas of trash, I latched on to anything I could find worthwhile. I slept in a cement teepee off Route 66. I walked, sweat pouring from my brow, between Old Vegas and The Strip after locking my keys in my car. I drank a Coors with my coffee one Saturday morning to celebrate Colorado's brewery and outdoorsy spirit. Needless to say, the idea of the roadtrip was valuable in and of itself. It was born of a relatively spontaneous freedom to explore the unknown. I had the delicate ability to control the direction of my wheels, but let myself get into trouble when the engine was off.

During my last week on the road, I reached the heart of the matter. I was lucky enough to attend the Earthship Biotecture September Seminar in Taos, New Mexico. It is a magical community I stumbled upon researching The Land of Enchantment itself before I left. The story goes that forty years ago, Michael Reynolds, an unorthodox architecture school graduate and dirt-bike racer trying to dodge the Vietnam draft, started a revolution in self-sustainable housing. Through years of experimentation and wild construction, his Earthships, as he calls them, have developed into prime real-estate for living off-the-grid, that is, without any utility dependence to the outside world. Earthships are built with recycled materials, like beer cans and car tires, harness solar and wind energy to power the interior of the home, as well as utilize caught rainwater in a water management cycle which helps you wash, feed an in-home greenhouse, and use the John. And just as good ideas catch on, Reynolds has since fostered a community of thinkers, builders, and people just looking for some change.

There is more than a fair share to be said about building an Earthship home, but I can't get into it here without exploding everyone's Inbox. Hell, Reynolds puts out books and videos for that particular reason. What really struck me, though, was how attainable building a simple home, free from the anxiety of destruction or dependence, became a reality. Everyone kept asking each other if they were ready to build their own home after the seminar and my answer was always a safe "well, I don't see how I could just forget all this". And the truth is that, I saw the beauty and freedom of living off-the-grid. There are just a few other questions I need to answer before a home is my number one priority. 

What really stuck out in the front of my memory was the parallel universe of New Mexico. Allow me to set the scene weeks back, in New Jersey, the night of my 25th birthday. After hours of watching old wrestling pay-per-view programs for my birthday, one of my best friends, Rob Bajor, hung back as everyone went home to get some shut-eye. I was leaving for the road the next day and Rob wanted to impart his road knowledge, considering he recently ran off to San Francisco for a month-long stay just weeks earlier. One of his favorite moments, he told me, was sitting on the Pacific Coast beach with some newfound friends, enjoying the crash of the waves and the warmth of a firepit on the sand. Back to Taos, New Mexico. I'm having one of the most valuable experiences of my trip, learning about housing and imagining a future free of reliance. The first person I end up conversing with at the seminar is named Rob. We were the East Coast boys of the group, him being from Queens, New York, me obviously Jersey. It's probably the reason we got along so well. And as the seminar wound down, Rob was cool enough to invite me to hang out with him and his brother, Dave, in the Earthship he rented out for the weekend. And you know how we enjoyed our Earthship experience? We made a firepit in the desert. Sure, it's a stretch, Robs and firepits and vacations from Jersey, but the connection gave me a laugh and shrank the distance from home. We sat around the flames like modern-day cowboys, listening to the pack of coyotes out in the wilderness, attempting to avoid the smoke, enjoying some beer, and reflect on the housing ideas we drank all weekend.

I left Taos and the Earthships behind to wonder the idea of value. Value has become a shiny word. Instead of peering inside of us to find personal value, the word easily conjures images of gems, precious medals, stacks of cash, maybe something you'd find in a hidden temple from Disney's Aladdin. Now, the switch seems to be happening. There are thousands of young people, at the moment, angry about the concept of value all over the country, specifically on Wall Street. So as I buckled down for a thirteen-hour drive to Austin, Texas, I challenged myself to see the value in my own beliefs, not so much my bank account. All I knew once I made it to Texas was I honestly valued a city atmosphere to a barren wasteland of oil pumps and cattle, and a friend who would open her front door with a smile. 

Last time I visited Austin, two years ago, it was an exercise in vacationing. I ate Tex-Mex and swam just about every day for a week. I visited Chaz and Kathy, a couple I originally knew from New Jersey, but came to know better once I passed out several times on their living room couch. I still look back on that trip with fondness (hell, I even jumped off a bridge with Chaz) but times have changed. Chaz and Kathy split. Chaz went home to his friends and family in New Jersey, Kathy continued her education and career in Austin. Meanwhile, I'd been through jiu-jitsu tournaments, jobs, girlfriends, moving back and forth throughout my home state, and one difficult back injury. We were new people to one another and somehow we didn't miss a beat.

Value finally took a shirt from the transforming the outside world to tuning in to the thoughts in my head and the words coming out of my mouth. Kathy and I spent evenings on her front stoop, holding magnifying glasses up to one another in the dark. It was as if we both never really knew each other before then. We built our autobiographies answering the questions we asked one another and revealed more than we thought we knew.  We shared our hopes and praise for our siblings, examined the state of marriage and divorce, shared our preference for staying out of the sun, and discussed the concept of the soul or lack thereof. While I had experienced homesickness coming and going through my travels, suddenly, I truly noticed the need for others. The value of friends began to balance my need to hit the road alone. How else would I recognize my tendencies and mistakes in my career path or through relationships or even my own personally-diagnosed mental illnesses? I couldn't. It needed to be said out loud. I could only assume Kathy felt the same way as we hugged before I left, both thankful we found a friend so similar in our struggles yet so calm and willing to ignore ourselves and solve the other's problems. 

To be honest, after Austin, I had experienced what I needed to come home. It definitely helped that I had failed to plan an extensive exploration on the East Coast. In Georgia, I did manage to catch Frankie Edgar come back to life in the fourth round of UFC 136 and blast Gray Maynard, so I was even more slap-happy and content to drive thirteen more hours back to The Garden State. 

As Faye chugged along, I took stock of my roadtrip treasures. I had and still have an iPhone gallery of 500+ pictures, including views from up the Rocky Mountains, downtown Chicago, glowing Old Vegas, and picturesque Route 66. Joe, the salesman, gave me fireworks in Pennsylvania and MC Lars sold me a t-shirt in West Hollywood. I met up with acquaintances-turned-friends and friends-turned-better-friends in Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Taos, and Austin. I saw my godmother for the second time in two years and my great uncle for the first time since I was ten! Most importantly, I could say that I'd done it. I set sail on the American frontier and returned a better man, no doubt.  

And I even wrote about it enough to please myself and hopefully all of you. Thanks for reading and rest assured that this is not really the end. I lied. It is only the beginning.

Until next time...
I explode into space.

-dan
 

Moving On, Untitled - #97

There is no end to exploding into space. For all we know, space is infinite. Too big for our minds and feet to carry us to the end. But it doesn't mean we stop.

The original idea of Explode into Space was to yell back to my family and friends as I drove off into the sunset. It was weekly reassurance that I wasn't dead and I was having fun across the country, out on Route 66. Eventually it became more. It was a kind of public journal, a way to smash together the thousands of thoughts I had throughout the week into something a bit more coherent than my lips could manage.

And just about two years later, with close to one hundred emails launched, it is time for something new. Not too new. I just need a new kick in the ass that old, broken habits weren't giving me.

There is no one or no thing to blame. It is transformation and that's always what my writing has been about. Shit happens. Chalk it up to wrenches in the works. 

Instead I want to use this opportunity to learn from my mistakes. There is plenty to show for what I did writing as long as I did and getting all of your awesome feedback. It was always appreciated to know someone not only took the time to digest my words but also take a minute or two longer to tell me what they thought about it. 

That's the whole point of this project and what I plan to do next. 

My resolution going forward is more sex. Idea sex. Every day. 

The modern philosopher and futurist filmmaker Jason Silva defines idea sex better than I know how. It is how we make our contributions to the world now. More than ever, we're crashing seeds of ideas and memes together and coming up with new things. It's not sperm and eggs and bouncing babies, it's contributions to everyone else in the world. Silva says here: "We now participate in this idea sex universe with what we put out in terms of memetic content.

We're sparking off of one another.

I'd take it a step further and say the contribution (or reproduction) isn't always the point. Idea sex, just like physical sex, can be pleasurable and transformational. At best, it is an act of connection.

I hope, if anything else, we've connected throughout this adventure. It has meant the world to me. And going forward I will be writing under my name officially at www.danscharch.com.

Sincerely thank you to every single one of you.

 As always, we explode into space.

-dan

How to Live Knowing You're Going to Die - #96

New York is no place for a person who can't decide. Double negative right there. You can't take it all in. There is something destructive in having too many options.

And so, as with any problem, we adapt. The trouble then folds on itself with our own thoughts about it. We're conscious of the concept of adaptation and we know we can control our destiny to a certain extent. Knowing that means endless possibilities. Endless options, endless decisions. Endless, of course, until we end. We die. No one can escape it or no one has yet, and we're stuck living with that single fact.

It's hard to take it all in. It would be too daunting to consider Death every time you drove a car or ate a hamburger. The best we can do is consider the present, the here and now. Shakespeare often called sleep the twin brother of death. Why not consider our daily death when tinkering around our lives in the waking world?

The authors of A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming are not all that convinced the waking world and the dreaming world are that different. Sure, there is the disconnect of laying down and closing your eyes, but lucid dreaming, or being conscious within your dreams, is very possible and very real. Some would argue our brains have trouble knowing the difference. And just as we're clueless to what happens as we pass from this Earth, we're very much unaware of why in the world we need sleep and why our brains are producing fantastical worlds in our dreams, unlike the world we spend most of our time in.

Sleep only then becomes another adventure of life. Death, by association, is not just a punctuation mark, it's a vein running through our lifeblood. 

Death is on my mind because my grandfather is not doing so well this winter. He is suffering with bladder cancer and I've never seen him so weak. I'm afraid to even hug him although I'm sure not hugging him causes a different kind of pain. It does for me. 

It makes it better to know my grandpa is 89 years old and still sharp enough to crack joking advice to my brother and I like "Don't get old".  The most painful part is watching him fade, knowing it will be over too soon. No more jokes, no more stories, no more songs. He would burn bright while I knew him, and never again.

I want to take this as a call to arms. He would want it that way. My grandfather wants nothing but the best for me. He would shell out dollars for A's on my report cards, ask about my jobs through the years, and flex a bicep at me to check that I'm taking care of myself and staying strong. And when he is gone, I'll just have the memories and his passing, the thing that took away my grandfather.

We like to think we need a sharp turn to drop us out of our funks or weaknesses. We await the perfect job or significant other. And yet we forget that around the corner, Death, the ultimate sharp turn, is possible. This beautiful life could end very shortly. It could be so quick no amount of time would satisfy you to live. We're left begging for more. And it's rarely on a stale Tuesday do we drop to our knees, it's only at the very end if we see it coming.

I'm writing to do something with my life. If that life is 89 years long, that's great. If life is only until tonight, I better do my best. What my best is is something to decide. My grandfather, and I think most of us, are onto something if someone mourns us when we die. If we tried our best to make the most positive contributions to others during our time, our life was worth living. It could have been by invention, laughs, relationships, words, hugs, or charity, there is always something to give the rest of the world while we're here. Henry Scharch makes me a better person just by showing me how to focus on the important details. 

The New Year is coming and a new change needs to happen. It's not some grandiose plan, it's a simple mental switch. Life is too short to hate yourself or fall short. Life is about connection and explosion. We are the only species in this world that can grow beyond our means. We have no idea about the limits of our potential, we just adapt and move on. And I believe, if anything, that's the New Years resolution we can all learn to live by.

Until next time...
I explode into space.

-dan

Embracing Unpredictable Change - #95

I'm still trying to find my wings in Brooklyn. Living in a city makes all the wonderful possibilities that much more both possible and impossible as the days pass. Three months down and I have made some great strides in my job while barely keeping any romantic life alive. I've joined and quit a gym and found a new love in practicing yoga. And the most noticeable has been that I broke a decent stride of ninety or so newsletters trying to develop a new audience.

For a long time now, I've been trying to find a niche in the blogging world that's more than my personal thoughts and adventures. Outside of the small circle that know and love me, what does the world know? I'm just another writer. And that's how it ought to be. You need to give something of value to capture eyes and attention now. And if you don't know me at all, you don't know what I have to offer.

And somehow I made the connection to a concept I've always held close - the Butterfly Effect. If you can get past the Ashton Kutcher flick, the Butterfly Effect is a fascinating concept from its origin of a meteorologist making a mathematical assumption to the blinding speed of the modern interconnected world. I know I just said a whole bunch of mumbo-jumbo there, if you're not familiar with the concept, but I'm hoping it can make sense to a new audience in time.

The Butterfly Effect essentially says that changing the initial conditions of an event can unpredictably and radically change the results of that event. The Butterfly Effect sort of explains why Ashton Kutcher lost his arms when he went back in time to change his weird childhood. I've been told it's the same story Ray Bradbury wrote about a hunter going back in time to nab a T-Rex in A Sound of Thunder, and I can't wait to read it. And it's the reason the fantasy of time-traveling to Nazi Germany and flicking Hitler in the nuts is a bad idea. Who knows what the world would become of that little twinge of pain for the world's most notorious dictator and the rest of us? 

It might seem a bit counter-intuitive at first. It is not all about time travel and a great deal of our world is based on the idea that we have some delusions of predictability. We think we know how to live a life - go to school, get this job, marry this person, and squirt out some kids. And some would argue we need the delusions. Imagine how hard it would be to exist keeping the fact that you could die at any time in the front of your mind.

Life is unpredictable. And I'm not sure about you, but I'm thrilled by the chance possibility that just changing one tiny aspect of your life now could radically launch you into the future somewhere else you're not expecting. 

Come to think of it: Could you have predicted five years ago where you are now? Three years ago? One?

The power is in the details and the seconds. This is what I want to write about now. You could experience it as enormous pressure or endless opportunity, the truth remains that it's unpredictable. So why not get out there and shake things up? 

Until next time...
I explode into space.

-dan

Do you need to do interesting things to write interesting things?

Chris Guillebeau started a career as a professional blogger after he realized his true passions - unconventional living and worldwide travel - had an a following. When it comes to blogging, Guillebeau said it in his manifesto 279 Days of Overnight Success:

"People like strong opinions, so that’s what I’m going to give you.

I can dig that. And I can agree. And so here goes nothing…

Yes, you need to do interesting things to write interesting things.

Whether your opinions are informed by deep thought or intense experience, it is important to stretch out and dive in. As Timothy Leary famously said of the counterculture generation, "Turn on. Tune in. Drop out."

Writing is a reflection of yourself, either way you look at it. Right-side up or upside-down. Ideas today could contradict your most hardcore beliefs tomorrow. That's the beauty of life.

Side aside your first person point of view. It's not necessary. Make an About section on your site and be done with it. If someone is reading your blog, they can find out who you are if you set it up right. Instead, give them something to chew on. The best blogs are not ego trips, they're toolkits.

Terrence McKenna said, "Culture is not your friend" and without or not you grasp that or believe it, who says you can't make some of your own? Why not write your own self-help book? Your own personal development book? Write your own comic book or story?

Books do not come out of nowhere. Not even Peter Pan and Never Never Land. As a matter of fact Peter Pan came out of a weird place itself - the author, J. M. Barrie, may have experienced psychogenic dwarfism bought on by emotional neglect and stress from his childhood. 

The truth is you write to see words and you write for an audience. If you do this, you're doing it right. 

It can still be a challenge, though. As the mind behind The Oatmeal webcomic notes in Some thoughts and musings about making things for the web:

"Your career + the internet = sad"

There is good pressure for writers on the web to explain themselves because just about anyone can put their fingers to the keys. Do it regularly and you're more impressive. Write regularly and write well, and you might be onto something.

But The Oatmeal makes a great distinction, even for himself and his work:

"I'm a firm believer that if you don't have anything to say, you shouldn't be talking. And if you don't have anything to write about, don't write."

Make it valuable. Make it worth the time to read for someone more than yourself and your immediate family.

Write for others. Write with conviction.

And, by all means, do something interesting.

How the World Helps You Fail When You Should - #94

 With just three Medium articles and a tweet from a friend, Matt Schlicht blew my mind. And it wasn't even about the impressive resume of creating products and landing himself on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list twice. 

Reading his third of three week-old articles on Medium, How to Meet The Rich, Famous, and Powerful While Sitting on the Toilet, I realized I was going down a bad path. Schlicht's raw, experience-flavored words reminded me of the writing I crave and devour when I get my hands on it. He was writing for an audience about what he loves: product creation. It may not be the most sexy or compelling of topics for all but Schlicht makes it sexy and compelling. 

What I've started to find making the tentative move from this public journal of gathered ideas to a more public service content provider was a closer relationship with what I need to do. When I felt most inspired writing was when I was able to grab from the corners of the world of content, consuming others' ideas all around me, and delivering up my take for others to chew on. It was up close and personal, at best, and a sweaty exercise in questioning myself, at worst. I was bench-pressing words for my small world.

With the limp launch of Stories to Tell People at Parties, I found the theme was compelling but my heart just wasn't in it. The idea was to deliver stories to the quiet and interesting that would flourish into conversations more than small-talk. I couldn't sell myself down the river to keep a daily blog of stories for other people to tell for the hell of it. I felt like a content-cranking machine. This is no way to write. Where is the heart? Where am I?

Enter uncomfortable humiliation.

What writing should be is something to be floored about, even to write on a daily basis, whether or not someone sees it. E.B. White, author of Charlotte's Web, may have said, "A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper," but I have to argue that a writer without passion to write from his heart is no better than the dust on his keyboard.

And we know what they say about moments like these? Failures make the man and we all learn from them. 

I think it has been important to take some time and really comprehend what's going on here. After all, I did break open a new project for the people around me and quickly retreat in defense. Is it all about doing what you love or is it about stepping out to take some painful risks? Is it vulnerability? Is it art?

I found myself turned back to Schlicht, wondering what he could tell me to unlock my mind from this frustrating sickness of my own poor self-esteem. What magical words could he give me and just me? And yet therein lies the beauty of this interconnected world. He could deliver me or anyone else a nugget of truth or questioning enough to turn the tides of our thinking. His words are his gift, just like anyone else strong enough to build something.

We have to figure it out for ourselves. That's the rough stuff. Will writing make me miserable? I can't be sure. But, boy, do I feel good writing these words as they come out and feeling the cool breeze come through my window. It's the freedom from an obligation that just makes no sense. While I may have wanted to deliver Stories to Tell People at Parties, my heart wasn't there quite yet. And where it is may be the path to true love.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read this and any other collection of words I've crammed together through our friendship. It means so much to me that you would take the time to step into my brain and walk around. Somewhere in there I'll be able to pump out something of use to someone so they don't have to hack through the times that threaten our very best work. Something in us is important to someone else and I'm bound to find it.

Until next time...
I explode into space.

-dan

Neil deGrasse Tyson Wants You To Ask Questions - #93

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a scientist and he just wants us to ask really good questions. 

I had the pleasure of hearing the astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium speak at my office the other day and he was nothing short of electric. We were told he only had a half-hour to come and speak (because of his busy schedule) but it was clear if we kept raising our hands, he would keep answering our questions. He is a conduit for the advancement of science; it is, no doubt, his passion.

The beauty of his message is its purity. Tyson admits his accidental fame is nothing more than that, an accident. And it will never distract him from the true work of his existence. He just so happens to be famous for delivering soundbites for media outlets and hosting a popular podcast called StarTalk to celebrate science with A-List celebrities. The value of his work is rooted in the questions he asks of the Universe and the path he sets out to discover the answers.

On the flip-side, Tyson entertained a question about the meaning of life and the philosophy of something rather than nothing in this Universe. I was blown away by the scientific method of his answer. Tyson warned us not to burn brain cells thinking about philosophical questions that cannot be answered. What is the sound of one hand clapping, he asked, when we've already defined clapping as two hands hitting each other? We first need to ask the right question and then we can seek out an answer, meanwhile, Tyson said he'll be in the lab discovering new particles.

When someone in this world has such a clear drive, it's intoxicating. We're scared of the friends who dare to become famous worldwide  for their art. We're confused by the bridge-burners, quitting jobs with no thought of consequence and just the knowledge that they need out. 

Re-reading Seth Godin's The Icarus Deception, I found this quote particularly useful to describe this reflection of the world: "This is a lousy time to be an industrialist, a lousy time to hope for reliable, predictable demand. A lousy time to expect to extract unreasonable profits by making average stuff for average people. A lousy time, especially, to be a well-paid middle manager who does what he's told in exchange for a safe job."

We need to find the passion for it all to exist. Somewhere deep down it's inside us and we can't be afraid to release it. It's not going to be easy and it's not always going to be fun, but the big question becomes "When will you risk it?"

Until next time...
I explode into space.

-dan

How to Experience the Dreams of the Waking World - #92

 "Am I dreaming?" - It's a periodic question raised in A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming to help you differentiate from the waking and dreaming worlds. Yup, it's like the totem in Inception. And although we're all very familiar with that movie, even scientists are still very unfamiliar with why we sleep and, arguably, more importantly, why we dream.

Lucid dreaming is knowing you're dreaming when you're in it, not simply reflecting later on in the waking world, like most of us do. It is the very real ability to interact with the subconscious playground of your mind, so the field guide says. 

My mind was screaming serendipity when I found myself at the launch party for the guide book last night, only a five minute walk from my new apartment. Listening to the authors speak about how the book came to creation, I couldn't help but feel like this was why I moved to a giant city, to crash into opportunities and moments that would zig and zag my course every day.

Jared, one of the authors, made it a point to note the surrealism of the whole experience of launching the book. The three authors shared their lucid dreaming experiences over the years and dove into the project of writing the book. They started to use Kickstarter to crowd-fund their project and even accidentally met one of the founders of Kickstarter on a whim, and he later featured the project on the site, boosting their contributions. And then it was picked up by a publishing company and spread even further than those with the faith to hand over money to have it made. 

Surrealism was the hilarious period to Jared's comments on the process, but he made an excellent point to the concept of the book. The excitement and adventure of being able to dream anything we want when we fall asleep has real world consequences. It can make you more aware that the two worlds don't have to be that different, and dreaming in the waking world can be just as wild and amazing.

And so there I found myself, chatting with the authors in the Black Rabbit bar down the street. And right now I'm writing with a new kind of faith and understanding that this world could be just a dream. It's worth remembering, checking. "Am I dreaming?"

The challenge is to experience it, whether in the waking world or dreaming world. Louis CK seems to have his hand on the pulse of this idea. He hit a chord once before on Conan with the now viral video Everything is Amazing and No One is Happy. And he did it again most recently with his argument against the constant, ubiquity of cell phone attention, particularly for children. We're so buried in our phones and digital communication that we forget, or worse, never learn, how to be an empathetic, interested person in real-life communication. We forget that life can be sad sometimes, and we're not sure why. Louie makes this easier to digest than anyone I've ever seen or heard.

Jason Silva might have the right kind of response to follow it up. What Silva says about the existential bummer of our mortal love is so beautiful to me now, I had to write it all out here instead of rely on the video (which you're free to watch too):

"There is a sadness to the ecstasy. Beautiful things sometimes can make us a little sad and its because what they hint at is the exception a vision of something more, a vision of a hidden door, a rabbit-hole to fall through but a temporary one. That thing ultimately that is kind of the tragedy. That is why love simultaneously fills us with melancholy. That's why sometimes I feel nostalgic over something I haven't lost yet because I see its transience.

And so how does one respond to this? Do we love harder? Do we squeeze tighter? Or do we embrace the Buddhist creative of no attachment, do we pretend not to care that everything and everyone will know is going be taken away from us? I don't know if I can accept that. I think I'm more side with the Dylan Thomas quote that says, 'I will not go quietly into that good night but instead rage against the dying of the light.' I think that we defy entropy and impermanence with our films and our poems. I think we hold onto each other a little harder and say I will not let go. I do not accept the ephemeral nature of this moment. I'm going to extend it forever. Or at least I'm going to try."

What we need to do is feel it. Experience the sadness of being alone, without texting someone. Experience the happiness of sticking with a skill or habit, and reaping the benefits. Take the risk to make something surreal. 

Until next time...
I explode into space.

-dan

Disrupt Lives, Not Days - #91

I was walking down Broadway, my heart still thumping from the twenty-minute workout I endured five blocks back and I could see the guys already. Four young black kids holding about a half dozen CDs each, hustling people as they walk by to take one, enjoy it, and possibly follow them later.

I wasn't sure of their business model but I didn't care to stop and ask. If you've been in Manhattan lately, this selling strategy is not uncommon. Usually, someone has a CD player, they hand you a copy as if it's free, ask you to take a listen, and then follow up with the hard sell. (Some price akin to a record store, whatever that is.) Or at least that's been my experience when I'm too polite to listen to whole pitch for myself, knowing I'll say "no thanks".

Somehow these guys were different. I tried to powerwalk through them and when I didn't respond to even look at the disc held out in my walking path by one of the guys, I heard him say, "C'mon, be nice.

Another guy matched my pace and walked alongside me, asked me where I was from. I lied (or did it come out naturally?) and said Brooklyn. He moved on quickly, asked if I liked hip-hop. Maybe take a listen, it's free. I said, without stopping for a minute - "I don't have a CD player." He froze on the corner, shrugged his shoulders that suggested it was a familiar response for him and he disappeared back into the crowded streets.

There are plenty of worse ways to market music but offering the technology of a decade ago when just about everyone in the city has the ubiquitous white headphones plugged into their iPhone is backward. Even the thought that this particular guy had to say, with some audacity, it was free was a bit telling of the whole pitch. Of course! It should be free! 

Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, had this mindset implanted in my subconscious earlier this week. He gave away the tools of his trade in an hour-long talk for Google and General Assembly called Tools for Entrepreneurs: Making Something People Will Love. Ironically, the things Ohanian has laid his hands on, playing Cupid for the digital public, are also the things that disrupt the natural order. It is the essence of technology today. No one likes a new Facebook interface update but we can't stop raving when a new website reinvents the way we eat (Yelp), travel (Hipmunk), rant (750words), or read (Pocket). It is a love/hate relationship but it's hard to believe someone pushing CDs on the streets of Manhattan will disrupt my entire life.

Why not make something to radically shake up our lives, not just our day? Why not use the tools available to your advantage? The resources are there to be better, you just need to sit down and find what you need. The world is wide open, we just need to use our eyes.

Until next time...
I explode into space.

-dan

Puzzles of Interest in Brooklyn - #90

Brooklyn has kept me in the moment. You can't get off a rollercoaster and I'm on it, baby. There is no time to slow down or think too much when there is plenty of great things going on around me and decisions to be made, right away, not later.

Friends have come over to visit and I've started saying yes to any networking event, comedy show or friend's house I've been invited to or heard about. The plan is to do something. Brooklyn is just my launchpad. It may not be for everyone and it may not be right to depend on a point on the map, but it's in my present and it makes me happy. 

The troubling, liberating, mind-boggling truth is there is never enough time. Never will be. You might put your feet up on the couch or get assigned a deadline for work a year from now but there is no forever. There is only decisions. As sure as seconds ticking away. You can sleep on them or you can sleep with them. Either way, they're there, hiding in the shadows and right beside your eyes.

Teri bought me a book titled How To Be Interesting when she was went to Boston recently. And it doesn't hurt me to read, I don't know about you, and I want to be interesting, so why not see what Jessica Hagy has to say? Among the nuggets of knowledge her bold-tipped graphs and numbered lessons revealed was page 60 - Pick Something. She wrote, "Not sure what to do with your day? Your life? Your career? Frankly, it doesn't matter. Even the most intricately organized plans could crumble."

It hit me again. We make decisions on the faith alone that we know what we're doing. But it's a gamble always and knowing that makes it that much easier. Because it could be over at any second, why not try to do good, do fun, do interesting? Why not make a mark and feel alive? I'm not sure what I'm doing financially as I bounce around night to night for improv shows, frozen yogurt, or vegetables I'm sure will rot in my fridge because I don't know how to cook. My job is the best I've ever had and I'm not quite sure how it will become my career. I haven't had a date  this year yet and somehow I'm both not worried and totally confused about that. It's not all that bad. Decisions are made everyday and like Tyler Durden said, "You decide your level of involvement."

Growing up riding a unicycle and hiding puzzle books in his textbooks, dropping out of law school two-thirds of the way through, stand-up comedian Demetri Martin finally found out he was the ultimate puzzle. Working out palindromes and one-liners might not be your call to action but it is the answer to his puzzle now. Why not try to figure out yours before wasting time on something without a result? 

Until next time...
I explode into space.

-dan

 

Show Me the Details - #89

We need to roll with the punches.

Missing a deadline is never a point of pride for me and this may not be the first late post but it's definitely the latest. I'm sorry. My excuse has been the massive adjustment of moving to Brooklyn this past weekend. I don't have to explain the nonsense of moving (you've probably been there), but besides the physical driving and moving my life to another city and state, it's been a giant mental shift too.

What I expected was a smooth one-shot migration of my stuff inside a new set of walls. Sure, there would be some new habits to make, food to buy, and transportation to chart out, but it wouldn't take all day. Maybe a couple of hours and shopping trips.

Details cannot be underestimated. They find their way into anything and, from some angles, they're everything.

Last Tuesday, Squarespace sent me to the Usability Week conference "Copy Tactics and Optimization" in Times Square. It was one of dozens of seminars for industries interested in improving their user experience. Being a fan of words, Copy Tactics blew me away with the real world examples of how changing bits of text we take for granted every day can move mountains. It is the small difference between Facebook's former Become a Fan button and the ubiquitous Like button. One simple change to one simple button made the entire experience of the social network that much more engaging.

The idea that one word could change just how the world interacts with something as simple as a website bleeds into everything else. The way we speak, the way we eat, the way we talk to ourselves - they are all important and they all can be morphed. Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden famously said, "It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen." Master swordsman Miyamoto Musashi wrote, "From one thing, know ten thousand things." Catherine Toole made it apparent when she dropped this Jan Carlzon gem at the end of the Copy Tactics seminar: "You cannot improve one thing by 1000% but you can improve 1000 little things by 1%." It is one of the single most empowering ideas I've been lucky enough to grasp, and it always helps to be reminded. Never take the details for granted and know change is just one small step away.

Until next time...

I explode into space.

-dan

Why Feeling Important Is Important - #88

Freud thought life was all about sexual urges and phalluses; Dewey thought a bit different. He said it was all about being important. The deepest human urge is to want to be wanted. Like Cheap Trick said. It makes us do ridiculous things like postponing a justified break-up for several years or helping a friend move way too many times. It presents us the opportunity to be more awesome, too, volunteering our time to help the less fortunate or visiting our grandparents because they love to hear about what's going on in our lives.

Dale Carnegie said, "If you tell me how you get your feeling of importance, I'll tell you who you are.

The trick here is that it's not always you who decides your importance. I've stumbled upon this stepping back to see myself at my job and watching Soul Pancake's video An Experiment in Gratitude. Applying myself at work in all sorts of directions has begun to take over a major part of my week and mental brain-space. I've been juggling video-editing, writing glossary definitions, and chatting with customers, which, my buddy Rob cleverly calls "teaching people how to Internet better".  It makes me feel important to receive praise and gratitude from my supervisors and customers alike. It makes me feel like I'm a part of something, makes me feel important. What Soul Pancake did with their video, The Science of Happiness - An Experiment in Gratitude, is visualize the results of scientific studies showing a correlation between being grateful and being happy. My thought is that not only can a person be happy being grateful for others, but the person on the other end of the line knows how greatly they impacted a life for the better. Everyone feels happy, everyone feels important.

What's your story? What's your friends' stories? Are they important because they furiously post important news stories on Facebook for everyone to read? Do they give their all to a significant other? Wake up at the crack of dawn to feed their pets? Or do you know someone who finds their sense of importance creating something to share with people - music, jokes, paintings, anything?

We all have something to contribute and it makes every bit of us important. Sometimes, it's just easy to forget the true impact we have on one another.

Make everyone important. Make yourself important. 

Until next time...
I explode into space.

-dan

 

Live Your Life For Us All - #87

What is with the agenda? Why do we need schedules and goals and ideas for a perfect weekend? 

Our minds give us the unique opportunity, as we know it, to make decisions based on the prediction of just how damn good it will be to experience it. We all want to take the first steps toward the things that will make us feel good and steer us from the bad. My favorites are frozen yogurt with almonds and talking nonsense with my friends.

And this idea can make you a control freak. (Not the friendly froyo, the endless responsibility of daily choice.) When we're left with the awesome power and knowledge we think we have to determine the entire course of our lives by how we imagine it, we have the opportunity to build up a good amount of nervous anxiousness. Could it all be wrong? What could this mean? How do I find myself where I want to be?

I think the questions are natural. We have the ability to ask them till we're blue in the face and never find an answer, so we keep asking.We cannot know it all. The challenge is always remembering that and moving forward.

Brian Clark, founder of GDM Studios, gave an intriguing talk about this subject in the arena of phenomenal work. He believes a tree doesn't make a sound when no one is around to hear it fall and, therefore, meaning from art comes from the audience. The concept of a phenomenal piece of work is exactly the "universal principle of how people experience everything". (I suppose that really puts a damper on the "If you were the last person on Earth" question.)

Of course, the artist exists to create but what is the point if no one else is making meaning from it? If the idea is to express what is in your mind, who are you expressing it to? Sartre said it this way: Our ideas are the product of experiences.

And so if art is defined by the phenomenal portion of the audience, it's my understanding that everything is a piece. Never look back thinking why or what if, you needed it. You can't enjoy a great experience without understanding it is a thread away from your worst memory. The You is how you consume it all right now. 

And as every moment can be an experience to weather or invigorate the storm of thought, it is a constant flow.  If we're all made of the same stuff, we're not just bouncing off one another, it's constantly an experience displaying itself in an infinite amount of different observable ways. Nothing will ever be the same and it keeps going. The best moments are the ones that are meaningful, powerful, transformative and therefore unforgettable for one reason of another. It's your favorite song or a certain sunrise on a roadtrip vacation. 

Life is an adventure every day to find these experiences, to find the hair on your arms standing up or your stomach trapping wrestling butterflies. They are the moments when you're in such a flow that time, responsibility, physical upkeep - they all don't matter. You're in the zone. 

Until next time...
I explode into space.

-dan

 

Why Not Ask What's Up? - #86

Walt Whitman said it in four simple words: "Be curious, not judgmental."

Some years later, George Carlin had the same sentiment with a little more flare: "When you're born in this world, you're given a ticket to the freak show. And when you're born in America, you're given a front-row seat. And some of us get to sit there with notebooks."

There is never a dull moment. The world is always throwing new acts, new numbers, new explosions our way. Whether we're in the freak show or observing it, we're always moving together. It is a lesson to be learned from Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard. Sometimes described as "the happiest man in the world", Ricard explains that because our minds are always moving, we should focus not on permanent change for stability, but focus on the flow. Ricard said, "Mind training is on the idea that two opposite mental factors can't happen at the same time...You cannot in the same gesture shake a hand and give a blow...There are natural antidotes to emotions that are destructive to our well-being."

Worse than trying to  shake your hand and throwing a punch is the idea that you can easily juggle thoughts about yourself and thoughts about others in the same instant. There is only one path. You can switch on and off as quick as a computer circuit, but the truth remains that there is a limitation. 

And how often do you flip that switch, sit back and enjoy? When was the last time you asked what was up and meant it? 

We're not just ourselves. While it's easy to think only our minds determine the outcomes, there is no denying that every collision we endure morphs us some more. As Dale Carnegie says in How to Win Friends and Influence People, "You deserve very little credit for being what you are." Your world of conversations, education, friends, fights, family, battle scars and late-night snacks and dance parties is only the surface of your identity. We are a different person, molded and shaped, to everyone we meet because of how our lives have been crafted by the swirling mass of influences. 

Because no one is alone, for that matter, life is a conversation. Imagine the worst kind of conversation - the selfish, talkative type, the boring dribble, the complainer, the insulting patronizing type - and flow away from it. Keep your mind open to the world that shapes you and flow to be curious, not judgmental. Be interested to be interesting. Or think of it in terms of how Carnegie imagines author Elbert Hubbard would weather a disagreement: "Come to think it over, I don't entirely agree with it myself. Not everything I wrote yesterday applies to me today. I am glad to learn what you think on the subject."

Forget the fear of being misunderstood or unaccepted. It may be meant to be. Your life is always on a collision course. Just remember to slow down enough to appreciate the roadbumps here and there, and keep on rolling. 

Until next time...
I explode into space.

-dan

How to Be More Than Words - #85

We can't be sure if a tree falling in the woods makes a noise if no one is around to hear it, but do words matter if they're never read by more than the writer? 

It's a thought that's been burning a hole in the back of my head lately and I didn't even know it. The whole purpose of self-expression, of putting words together is to shout out to the world for it to receive you. It is not just to stand on a soapbox and project through a megaphone, it should be to connect and move people. And so why do I not make it easier for the conversation to lift off?

See Tom's photography here

My buddy Tom made it clear after he read last week's newsletter and sent me a text. We hadn't talked in a while, which made his text all the more appreciated, and he dropped a great note on me. He said that people like himself might want to add their own thoughts every week and it's not always clear how to do that. In other words, why not make it easier to start the conversation? And somehow I oversaw that major detail.

It was easy to assume that if someone really wanted to say something they would hunt down the right avenue or find me. While there was plenty of very appreciated feedback, it's not always fair and safe to assume people will jump on their end to connect with you. It's easy in this world and it's not.

There is no denying that we all consider ourselves, first and foremost, the top priority. Our experience starts with us, why wouldn't we? From sadomasochists to Gandhi, we establish the choices of our days by how they sprout up in our brains. We think about what we want, whether it helps others around us or just ourselves. But as we become more and more connected, it is high time for us to consider the audience, however we define it, not as a threat of judgment but a point of influence and interest. What are we if we're not interested in one another?

We crave the unnatural, essential connection of someone else being interested in us. It's not an attention-grabbing addiction, it's a life-affirming need. We want to know we exist beyond the scope of our own minds. And if we all want that, why don't we all give more of it?

With that being said, by all means, please share your thoughts in the comments section here - anything and everything at all. Just click the little speech bubble below.

I'm going to do my best from now on to make this conversation much more open and interesting.

Until next time...
I explode into space.

-dan

Why Not Rethink Technology? - #84

"Do you have the time?"

It used to be a question of the present moment, a request to turn your wrist. Now the question sounds more like a test of your attention. Or do you have the time to have the time?

Yesterday, I finally had the time to finish Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. And while the month it took me to read it had me scratching my head without or not it's wrong to move away from books and in front of screens, my takeaway message was Carr's mirroring of media theorist Marshall McLuhan, explaining that changing our tools changes our relationship with our world. "Nature isn't our friend, but neither is it our enemy," declared Carr.

When we look at the world through the eyes we've trained for the Internet, we start to see a fast-paced interconnected cloud. We may not focus on books or one channel at a time. We may not know the awesomeness of a meditation. It's not necessarily fog we're stumbling in, but it's not something to ever be bottled or shoved aside. It's bigger than all of us and our time here. And we're forced to exist in a world where choice means exploring an infinite universe around us. Linda Holmes called this The Sad, Beautiful Truth That You Will Miss Almost Everything.

But instead of focusing on the infinite flashing lights and bright colors of the Internet, unable to be contained, I've started to practice taking tabs of my own amazement. When do we ever sit back in the glory of how far we've come? Exploring used to run risks of imminent danger, Oregon Trail terrors. Exploring now is like falling down a wormhole that keeps you from adult responsibilities, like showering or getting to anything on time.

I think we're caught. If we focus too much on the impossible feat of knowing everything there is to the world now, we're bound to feel loss. Our amazement at this technology is overshadowed by the millions of words and songs and videos uploaded everyday. But why not surrender? Surrender to the fact that you can't know it all. You just have the choice to make sense of what you will.

And if it comes down to technology writing the rules of our relationship with the world, why not use that technology to be better? More grateful? More healthy? More caring? There is no question we could always use a bit more in this world.

Until next time...
I explode into space.

-dan

Turn the Page, Wash Your Hands - #83

Stories have been shared - written and spoken - for centuries, which makes it all the more impossible to have a definite hold on what it is to write one. We can all practice and and experiment with our own brand. Some do better than others. Stephen King comes to mind. David Sedaris and Chuck Palahniuk strike me too. And we can't forget all the other artists and media that happen to captivate us from podcasts to oil paintings to magazines spreads.

To say anything definitive and encapsulating about The Story would be impossible for me to even begin in one email.

What I have to enjoy and share this week is my slow shift to storytelling. I'm not trying to write the Next Great American Novel yet. (That's on the back burner, though.) What I've started to find is that I want to be able to share the great ideas I find in my endless Internet scavenger hunts in a form that's less stated fact and more of an answer to how all the characters and conflicts could connect with us.

Jack Black as The King

Believe it or not, it took Comedy Central's new series Drunk History for me to realize my need for storytelling. Take one comedian with a good historic story, load 'em up with booze, and let 'em go - that's the premise. Have some other comedians and actors lip-sync the drunk re-telling history's events and you have gold.

What I saw was what I enjoyed the most with people close to me, finding myself a couple drinks at a bar with music low enough we could hear one another, telling stories of our shared or not-so-shared pasts. Sometimes, they are rekindlings of fights that are laughable now, other times it's how we caught wind of a great trend happening out there in the world and how we're left to pick up our jaws from the floor and go home to find out more.

Stories are the stuff of our days, not just our weekends. We are stories and we connect through them. Why else would our brains be positively attracted to boxes and screens that produce color and sounds? It's fascinating! And for ourselves, what better story is the story of our lives? We're the captains, we're the authors. We're driving this sucker till the wheels fall off!

The more time we're saturated with this storied culture, the more important it becomes. We need to be radically shaken to feel the strongest of emotions from a good story. Since it's coming down to it, there are some basic elements of the story we can't avoid  telling.

There needs to be conflict. A story is not "I did this, this and this." It's why you did this, this and this that makes us wonder, laugh, cheer, or shake our heads. 

There needs to be resolution. In a way. We need to take something away from the time we put in to experiencing the story itself. It could be more questions, it could be answers. We want something. We want to feel moved.

Most of it all it has to keep the audience's attention. This is the reason a story exists: to be heard and to connect. With all the voices clashing for our collective attention, I think Jason Silva explained it well:

It's not enough to have a great idea. Tell us a story about it! 

With that being said, the most important reason why I decide to put words together every week is because I want to make everything a bit better. If that means you can use an idea I found on the Internet to redefine or restart your life, I'm always glad to do it. Figuring out how is the fun part.

Until next time...
I explode into space.

-dan