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.


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.


Explode into Space #58 - How The Future is in You

Dear Readers,

Man, wouldn't we all love to work for ourselves? Like a Boss, said Andy Samberg.

The idea of self-reliance has stitched this newsletter together and kicked me out of bed to be something more than nothing for the past year. The writer in me says to do it, much like how the author of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Lewis Stevenson found inspiration in his lucid dreams

And, as the landscape of our economy changes and the dim dream of it recovering to the pastel beauty of the Fifties fades, we have to start to realize that the Future is here. As freedom creeps into our daily lives more and more, security seems a less likely option. No longer can you clock your time in like some kind of lazy robot and expect anyone to just take care of your needs. We have to wake up and hunt.

My ears were perked and my eyes buzzed when I stumbled on the Harvard Business Review's recent article, The Future of You. It reinforced what I've been seeing the steps to for quite a while: the world is changing. Work is no longer a corporate set of handcuffs. You have to be flexible and calculated. That's good for some, bad for others. Essentially, the Harvard Business Review broke future economic success down to three tenets: self-branding, entrepreneurship, and hyper-connectivity.

If it sounds familiar, it is because it is exactly what Seth Godin was saying to me and I was saying to you when I was nose-first in The Icarus Deception. Without the obstacles of reaching an audience or gathering start-up money, what is slowly becoming most important is how to make a meaningful connection with people just like you. We're realizing the great potential of the tribe again.

The most difficult part is that in a world of instant change, making your dreams come true is not always done in lightspeed. You are not ready to win the lottery. You are not ready to be Justin Bieber. People crack under the pressure they didn't train to expect or earn. It would be the equivalent of Peter Parker trying out for the New York Giants. No chance.

I'm not prescribing back-breaking work; I'm suggesting thought. And sometimes, honestly, that's hard stuff. With work piling up for me lately, I found myself slowly zoning into the static of hours of television to wind down and anxiety in my half-asleep dreams to help people with their websites. What we all need is a beacon, a North Star, a dream, something that reminds us that when we have a free moment, we should and would and will work on it. Because sometimes freedom is not the most freeing thing. Henry David Thoreau probably said it better way back when: “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” What are you willing to sacrifice?

Know your route and believe in yourself. I started reading Kevin Smith's autobiography Tough Shit and early on he hawks this gem: "There's a trick to being whatever you want to be in life. It starts with a simple belief that you are what or who you say you are. It starts, like all faiths, with a belief - a belief predicated more on whimsy than reality. And you've gotta believe for everybody else, too - until you can show them proof."

To be anything in this world, you have to be yourself first. When connections become more important than anything, you'll have to rely on yourself first. No one finds buried treasure without digging. Writing for me is about the sources it is born from. In this newsletter you can see that clearly. It is a regular reminder to kick myself in the ass and dig up some stuff. And then I stumble on a quote like this and I'm forced to rub my chin and scratch my head and pat my tummy and keep moving on:

“To be perfectly original one should think much and read little, and this is impossible, for one must have read before one has learnt to think.” - Lord Bryon

Until next time...

I explode into space.