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.


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.


How to Die Working - #78

So many Japanese people are dropping dead from their jobs, they have a name for it: karoshi. Literally, karoshi breaks down to the characters for "exceed" + "work, labor" + "death". Overtime without pay has become the norm with some posting 80-hour (!) weeks, off the books to circumvent the the rules put in place to officially curb it. Competition has red-lined in the small country and the new workforce, in their late 20's, are dying from heart attacks and strokes. 

Halfway around the world, I'm sitting here dumbstruck. What's going on? We have something as amazing as the Internet existing in this world, and people are still dying just to find a job and people are dying on the job. Technology was supposed to be Our Savior, instead it has made it the new normal to work harder and longer, and normal has become anything but that. We need change and it's not just more jobs, it's more important jobs.

The Model T job is done. Retirement is long gone and benefits become the new gamble. Giving your life to a company is no longer enough because there is no stability in an ever-swirling world. The big question ends up being what can we do?

My mind was racing over all of this, Japanese karoshi and American unemployment, in 7-11 yesterday. As I put together the materials for my coffee, I spied on the Optimum representative pitching his plan to the manager on duty. He was playing the Buddy card, as good salesmen think they should do, and explaining how Optimum could match Verizon on service and beat them on price. They shook hands without a deal, and the Optimum guy walked behind me as I was bringing my coffee to the counter. I was so distracted by how ugly and shallow the conversation was that I walked right out the door, coffee in hand, without paying! I noticed the moment I stepped out into the open and went back in to pay, befuddled and embarrassed.

While Daniel Pink would tell you to sell is human (in his new book To Sell is Human), the new era of communication is showing us that sales can't be slimy anymore. The 7-11 manager doesn't care to be persuaded about Optimum, he can find the prices and service right online. Transparency has freed us from shady or slimy deals. And without the sincerity to truly believe in what you're selling, more and more jobs are becoming hollow shells of what the world needs. What we do need is passion, we need Life, not people playing roles about one service or another, dropping dead just to keep up with the Joneses.

We're racing to make ourselves act like technology. You cannot be as cheap and as quick as our Robot Future. Seth Godin (below) calls it The Race to the Bottom. You don't want to be. You want to be irreplaceable, undeniable, alive. 

Yes, it's much worse for the Japanese dying in the streets than the gross transaction I witnessed at 7-11, but I think the bigger picture is important here. We need some new thinking about work. It is no longer a spot to fill to feed your family or your video game addiction, it is not a moving, working piece of the machine. Just like our technology, our world has become a cloud, flowing and ever-morphing. Work has to be something of true value, there is no more timeclock punch-card. As Jason Silva puts it, "Maybe we need to look at new narratives for how to live our lives in our search to become cosmic heroes." (Silva talks here.) There is no alternative, it's the new American Horror Story. When they take away the shit jobs with fast food robots and automated call centers, what do you do? Start moving people. Fix their troubles. Lift the world up.

We shouldn't be dying for our work, we should be coming alive with it. Find it for yourself and enjoy what Alan Watts called the "real secret of life -- to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play."

Until next time...
I explode into space.


Explode into Space #68 - Impressed with the Future

Dear Readers,

Chris Guillebeau tweeted me. Twice. The author of The Art of Non-Conformity and The $100 Startup was, first and foremost, a blogger with the bucket list goal of visiting every country in the world. Now an author famous to me particularly, he asked on Twitter, bluntly and generally, if he could help anyone, and I figured, "What the hell, why not ask a fellow writer about my audience?"

It was a glimpse of the bigger picture. It's no big secret that Twitter is a great way to connect closely with others you'd never imagine talking to and here was a more successful author/blogger/world traveler than I that was opening his inbox to anyone willing to crank out 140 characters. What seemed wild at the time now shines of brilliant strategy and generosity. Guillebeau pointed me to his free manifesto, 279 Days to Overnight Success, already taking the time to craft a beautiful and effective e-book of sorts to teach others how to develop a blog following without sleazy advertisements or compromises. In a world where everyone can write, a personal touch is the quickest way to gaining a true fan and Guillebeau has me. 

With the feedback to my own writing, I've come across two fairly obvious themes: you like me and you like my ideas. Simple enough, right? The challenge is getting a small world to know me and my ideas. What is Explode into Space? Why, as a reader, would I waste my time here? They are the questions we barely bother to ask ourselves when something like The Onion or Perez Hilton or Reddit just fits. It's subtle but effective. You know what to expect from each and you don't mind wasting time cause you don't imagine doing anything else.

Jason Silva is another name I thought had to have some Internet pull. When he tweeted that he'd be chatting with author Daniel Pinchbeck in NYC the next day for just $10, I thought it was a joke. I bought a ticket without thinking, which I rarely do, and made my way across state lines. 

Formerly an employee of CurrentTV, Silva has exploded onto the Internet scene with his viral videos, or shots of philosophical espresso, as he calls them. They are simply two minutes of enthusiastic buzzing from Silva, quoting technological minds like Ray Kurzweil and Kevin Kelly, and radically beaming about the epiphanies of life. I highly recommend them.

Amongst the great conversation Silva and Pinchbeck shared with a crowded bar of fifty or so people, a sharp criticism was made of hipsters for the right reason. Forget the fashion and trust-fund support system, Silva criticized the hipsters we all know as being unimpressed by everything, dead to the world around them. It's a slap in the face to life itself. There is awe and inspiration around every corner, and it's something that deeply infuses my writing.

How can we not be impressed with a world where we can contact our favorite authors via Twitter in minutes? How can we not be impressed by the amazing technology you're reading this on right now? No one is reading Explode into Space on paper and pencil. How can we not be impressed that more and more people don't have to drop dead to make the world run?

I'm happy to look on the bright side and this past week I've connected with some great people: authors, filmmakers, new friends and old. The world is ripe for the picking and I'm going to start my collection.

Until next time...
I explode into space.


Explode into Space #66 - The Treasure & Trouble of Owning Your Story

Dear Readers,

Like the hard-boiled detective dodging tricky dames and whizzing bullets or the sci-fi hero traveling to the ends of the galaxy to roll out justice, we're all searching for our story while we're creating it. We are the stories we tell ourselves and others. You can't deny that everyone loves a good story, it almost seems within our nature. As Jason Silva quotes Douglas Hofstadter in his latest video The Mirroring Mind, we are "miracles of self-reference". 

Stories keep us equal-parts sane, providing structure and context, and advancing forward to The Next Best Thing. Would we aspire to anything if we didn't first see those achieve it before us? Would Tyson have been anything without the existence of Ali? Would Louis CK exist without George Carlin? Would any astronaut ever exist without Neil Armstrong? We adopt stories and tweak them as our own, pushing the corners of possibility.

The trouble comes when real life is not the fantasy we constantly imagine. Life coach Tony Robbins put it this way in a video entitled Create a New Story: "We live in a culture in the West that teaches people that you're not enough unless you're doing something really special and unique and we define special and unique in interesting ways." We can't all be rock stars and supermodels, just by telling ourselves it can happen overnight. Dreams only work if you do. Nothing new, right? We fall into it anyway. Personally, I've always had this blueprint of independent wealth and success at a young age. Lord knows I've tried with random adventures and they failed for whatever was a number of reasons. The trouble that keeps me up at night is finding the way to push myself, my stubborn, comfortable self, up a hill, in the snow, both ways, to realizing I am my dreams. Life can feel so inauthentic until you're happy every day giving everything you can to become the person you want to be.

On the flip side you have to imagine that Life can throw a curveball. You can get hit by a meteor, slammed by a drunk driver, or diagnosed with cancer. The pain you experience, besides physical, is learning that this is now part of you, no matter what you do. I'm not a big comic guy, but if I remember correctly that's how most superheroes begin their transformation, with bitter rejection and delusion of their great responsibility. There is the beauty. You have to own your handicaps as quickly as your strengths, and write your story like no one else. Sure, it's not always cut and dry, clean and simple. Sometimes, we need to go outside ourselves to understand the story. Psychotherapist Philippa Perry delivers a gut-check with this warning: "We need to look at the repetitions in the stories we tell ourselves [and] at the process of the stories rather than merely their surface content. Then we can begin to experiment with changing the filter through which we look at the world, start to edit the story and thus regain flexibility where we have been getting stuck." 

The road to being extraordinary is paved with more than your normal stories. When someone asks what's up, is there really nothing to offer? When someone says FML, are they not just noticing the negative aspects of life? And while Emerson and Dr. Schuller and Napoleon Hill all had the idea that you are what you think about all day, I think it's more than that. You are everything you breathe in. You are the thoughts you think and the actions you take, and the story your thoughts and actions unfold. And as Joe Rogan notes, "You have to be the hero of your own story." 

What is your story? What is that fantasy in your head that's just not coming true? Can you change it or can you change yourself? There is no other way. Think about it.

Until next time...
I explode into space.