Feeling Ways about Drake, Gojira, and Drinking Too Much

Two pints of Guinness was enough. Three would have been one too many.

I had taken a few weeks off drinking (and a few months off writing) after some tough times, and a friend asked me to join her in writing at a San Francisco bar called Vesuvio. Jack Kerouac wrote there. They had coffee but it just felt like a place for a drink. Or two.

A buzz for me is a sweet spot. The edges of life smooth out. Everything feels less messy. Until it doesn't. Until the good times roll off the road and I blackout.

It's not complicated. Let's call it what it is - binge-drinking. And it's not just the drinks; it's that two or three turns into a question mark. It's a subconscious decision to chase the feeling.

That's the big secret at the core of Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich. Commissioned by How to Win Friends and Influence People author Andrew Carnegie, Napoleon Hill made it his life's work to drill into what makes successful people just that. And, spoiler alert, the answer sits comfortably right in the title. Our minds bring thoughts into reality, and if you have a burning desire to make money, you'll find ways to make it appear in your life. Hill notes:

“The subconscious mind (the chemical laboratory in which all thought impulses are combined and made ready for translation into physical reality) makes no distinction between constructive and destructive impulses. It works with the material we feed it through our thought impulses.”

Like Austin Kleon wrote in Steal Like an Artist, "Garbage in, garbage out." Of course, when it comes to the drinks, I'm not subconsciously aspiring to be a drunk. But I had to admit to myself that my buzz is a dangerous turning point. I'm feeding my mind the idea that alcohol gives me one feeling when the tipping point shows it'll give me another.

In Drake's song "Feel No Ways" he tells a different story with the same concept - a split with a heartbroken lover. And when Drake sings, we can see he too has a choice to make about whether or not to accept it:

I had to let go of us to show myself what I could do
And that just didn’t sit right with you
And now you’re trying to make me feel a way, on purpose
Now you’re throwing it back in my face, on purpose

What's more interesting is what video essayist Evan Puschak, or The Nerdwriter, highlights in the production of this song. It is quintessential Drake, not just in lyrics, but in a sound The Nerdwriter describes as "Toronto-cold, 80's electro/R&B/rap/pop hybrid". If you listen to the Top 40 at all, you'd probably recognize it as well as I do without ever experiencing Toronto cold in the 80's. It feels a certain way without words and Drake accomplishes it with just three basic elements in the song: his voice, an electric piano melody, and a breakbeat drum pattern. The Nerdwriter makes clear that this sound is the result of Drake's subconscious mental diet. Drake's producer Noah "40 Shebib said Drake largely nailed down his particular sound after being influenced by Kanye West's album 808s & Heartbreak (another R&B/rap hybrid). Drake took West's first track "Say You Will" and made it his own, rapping and signing over the beat and calling it "Say What's Real". While Drake deals with his ex making him feel a way (on purpose), the track is a crystal-clear decision to make us feel a way too.

We often think pain and suffering is a bad thing but Drake has made a career off the pain and transformation inherent in break-up songs. Mark Manson noted this powerful strategy in The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck when he said, "Pain, in all of its forms, is our body’s most effective means of spurring action."

And as Drake is to break-up R&B/rap, Japanese cinema is to the creature feature. You probably know the King of the Monsters as the giant lizard Godzilla, but Gojira, the original Japanese film, was a sneaky cinematic revolution. Propaganda films were criminalized in post-war Japan and the Japanese were left to deal with an incredible array of feelings about the world after a bomb like no other was dropped on their home. Another great video essayist, Kaptain Kristian, explores this creative struggle in a video called Godzilla - The Soul of Japan. The Japanese took action and hide their pain in the creature feature. But, if you're looking, you can see the horror in the details - Gojira's skin is not scales, it's the charred, deformed flesh akin to that of an atomic bomb survivor.

And where the Japanese tried to understand and interpret their feelings a certain way through cinema, America did just the opposite by transforming the Japanese Gojira into Godzilla, King of the Monsters. American actors were added to the original film and Japanese dialog was barely translated. It became more a natural disaster film than a cultural thinkpiece. Americans were left to feel a different way about the whole thing, on purpose.

Everything we experience makes us feel certain ways. The choice is still ours to make but it can sit deep inside us. You better believe I feel different about Drake's music and Gojira's origins now that I know what I do.

But I can't help but think that if Alan Watts sat down to hear the stories of Gojira's transformation or Drake's sound, he'd probably offer his wise chuckle. Watts considered choice "a mental wobbling". It is the illusion that we can understand the fractals of the far-reaching consequences of every decision. We just can't take everything in.

Instead, Watts suggested we consider ourselves as clouds. He explained, "Did you ever see a cloud that was misshapen? Did you ever see a badly-designed wave?" There is no right amount of wobble; Watts would suggest you just be.

Easier said than done, right? Life can get incredibly complex even beyond rap artists and monster movies. But if we think the world is complex does that make it so? If you think you're overthinking, how does that work? Or is it just a feeling we can decide to accept or not?

The Daily Practice of Accepting Death

Of all the thoughts that bounce around our skulls each day, death is rarely one of them. There has never been a safer time to be alive.

And still, it's right there, always. 

In his new book, Show Your Work!, Austin Kleon recommends the daily practice of reading obituaries. Kleon explains:

Obituaries are like near-death experiences for cowards.

You don't have to go looking for trouble to practice realizing the terrifying truth that this will end. Meditate on it enough and it should be your guide.

Samurais trained relentlessly. They strongly believed you should always “be prepared” (they were like the deadliest Boy Scouts imaginable.)
— Eric Barker

This is the strategy of the samurai. Business Insider blogger Eric Barker recently questioned what made ancient samurais so cool with death being in their job description. The answer: control. Meditating on the ultimate possibility of being stabbed in battle gave them clarity and purpose. They didn't need to distract or busy themselves with thoughts about all the dangers. They just fought. 

It wasn't a matter of life or death when Michael Phelps hit the water, but the same idea applies when he swam in the 2008 Summer Olympics. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, wrote that Phelps was so ingrained in his process that he was prepared for any scenario. And when water filled Phelps' goggles halfway through the 200-meter butterfly race, he was able to keep calm and carry on, blindly swimming to victory, another gold medal and a world record.

You need to quiet your mind from the destructiveness of your own thoughts. If you can calmly comprehend the worst case scenario and prepare for it, there is no reason to panic. Yes, you will fail and, yes, you will die. If you can remind yourself of that, you'll have the inspiration to live without fear stalling or freezing you. 

Of course, it's all in how you accept it. I wrote an obituary for myself in an undergraduate journalism class and it was crushing. I was too young to feel like I accomplished anything and death would have meant ultimate failure. Life felt reduced to a paragraph.

With death as the backdrop, the all-important questions of life can be answered every day when you take action. Waking up to know it could end means you can cherish every breath, e-mail, hug, or beer. You have a plan of action when shit goes down. You're always ready to spring into sword-wielding, blind-swimming action.

If you get one life to live and one obituary to sum up your days, what do you want it to say? 

Collecting So Easy a Caveman Could Do It

Our Paleolithic blood is still pumping. Past our physical and mental and technological leaps from the knuckle-draggers, we're still just beings on the prowl. We live in the Land of Abundance where we're able to look past the chains of survival. Food is readily available and medicine has never been better. Immorality is closer than ever! 

And how did we get here? How did we flourish to seven billion and counting, sharing one big rock? I don't dare attempt a scientific explanation because, at this point, I don't have one. What I plan to offer is ideas. We're hunter-gatherers, through and through, and I think we're even more than that. 

Look closer and we're pieces. We're fingernails, hair, eyeballs, and guts. Grab a microscope and we're cells. We're bacteria and viruses. Split the atoms and we're chromosomes and DNA and neutrons and protons. Go deeper and I couldn't even tell you where we go next. Something tells me there is more to that two-and-a-half-pound grey mass in our heads. Step back from it all and these collections are just mechanisms to express the intangible. Our brains fire off the instructions to dance numbers and martial arts. The sum of our teeth, tongues, saliva, and nerves make up the languages of our cultures. Further and further, the collections we call ourselves deliver the coordinates for us to explode further into deep space than we've ever known.

Transient

And what does it all mean? The collections that make up us end up collecting the world around us. Think of it this way: Forrest Gump said life is like a box of chocolates, but he forgot that boxes of chocolates often have the flavors printed on the inside. We can choose to be surprised or we can choose to engineer delicious choices. 

Instead of leaving it up to chance and traffic and a long day at work this past week, I put the pedal to the floor and rocketed toward The City. Artist and writer Austin Kleon was speaking at the McNally Jackson bookstore and I was not going to miss it. Steal Like An Artist is his newest book and after living online for months as a Powerpoint, the printed version has become a New York Times Bestseller. It is such a simple and beautiful breakdown of the essence of creativity. It has resonated for me far beyond the first read. And there I was.

Click for more from Austin Kleon

Click for more from Austin Kleon

To delve into creativity and stolen art, Kleon hosted a panel discussion with three female bloggers - litblogger Maud Newton, the creator of Brain Pickings, Maria Popova, and creator of Tumblr Slaughterhouse 90210 Maris Kreizman. Pouring over favorite television shows and their individual creative processes, the guts of the show really got to one of my favorite ideas in Steal Like An Artist. On lucky page number 13, Kleon wrote, "The artist is a collector. Not a hoarder, mind you, there's a difference: Hoarders collect indiscriminately, artists collect selectively. They only collect things that they really love.

As kids, we had rock collections and baseball cards. We had action figures and Barbie dolls. What do we have to collect now? Are we collecting currency in the hopes that it will change our circumstances, maybe take us further away from the reminder that some people have to hunt and gather in an age of abundance? Are we collecting friends to extend our social circle further and guarantee our security from "predators" or creditors? Are we collecting degrees with the shaky promise that it will assure our success in the systems our ancestors and us have slowly built?

What we really need to collect is what sent us forward. From hairy monkeys to straight-backed brainiacs, ideas gave us the freedom to evolve. Everything that has even been created by a human has first and foremost been an idea. Even that idea is an idea I collected from someone else I can't remember. We're building on top of one another to get to higher ground. Immortality is right around the corner!

If you're collecting things you don't love, stop it. Stop it right now. There is no time or space or energy worth collecting something that doesn't resonate with you. We forget that we make the choices and when we forget that, we become victims to the hoards. We're bombarded everyday and we fall prey to the big, bad world. 

Unplug and reset. Start the game over. Matter of fact, pretend it's a game. Unleash your beast mode onto the world and collect gems along the way. You'll defeat demons and kiss princesses and climb down tall flagpoles. Right now, I'm sure there are probably some ideas swirling around in your head that you hold dear. Worship them. Brand them on your forearms and revel in the pain. It could be that you believe there are aliens out there, watching us. Or you think Bobcat Goldthwait deserves more attention for his movies. Or you're sure, in your heart of hearts, that Zooey Deschanel just might be that cute in person too. 

Seriously, we've all done it before. Collected ideas make up our workouts and study habits and recipes. Experience is the trail we follow to collecting these ideas, and as long as we remember what we brought along with us, it only makes us a more interesting and invested character. Think of Jesus, or Lance Armstrong. Crucifix necklaces and yellow plastic bracelets remind us to simply be more. It is a constant reminder. Why not develop your own system? Collect the right thoughts and collect the right ideas and until next time we explode into space.

Idea Sex

Some of my best ideas have come from storms of conversations in dark bars or while yelling playfully with friends over campfires.Nothing makes me feel more alive than having a discussion where I end up understanding the world better than I did before. It teases me that there is a meaning to nail down. You have the meaning of life by the tail just a bit more when you can bounce your ideas off of someone else. It's orgasmic in a different way. It’s idea sex.

The Work
Ideas may sometimes come as jolts. That's true. But visual artist Ann Hamilton makes a point when she jokes that no one sits down to be creative. There is no punch clock, there is no finish line. 

Don’t be fooled, there is actual work to creativity. It just feels like some big secret. We pretend artists and writers are a special group of people destined to be weird and moody. But as E.B. White, author of Charlotte's Web, wrote, "A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper."  It's not a one-and-done process, it is a meditation, a lifestyle. What Hamilton was poking at is that creativity is not a noun, it’s a verb. It is making the time to open your mind and ask questions. It is the practice you need to produce your best work. We don’t know when it will come and we don’t know if it will come, but you need to sit down and do the work. 

The Good Stuff
The process in and of itself can be maddening. There is an intense pressure of a billion tiny thoughts firing in your brain when you’re trying to create something to move you and the world around you. It’s no surprise some of the most amazing artists of our time have been seriously fucked up.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, beautifully challenged the tormented artist image in her TED talk “Your Elusive Creative Genius”. Gilbert found comfort in the ancient Greek and Roman ideas of a creative genius not being within you but being an external divine presence grateful enough to loan their powers to us mere mortals for some time. It took the burden off the “artist” to acknowledge that his “genius” or divine partner did or did not deliver. No artistic ego or suffering needed.

I’d like to take that idea one step further from Gilbert and the Greek genius. I believe we are all divine partners of one another. You’ve heard the theories. We’re all One. You’re the sum of your five closest friends. And now with the magic of the Internet, we’re all connected, sharing ideas and colliding off one another. 

Every tweet is an invitation to idea sex.

The work of creativity multiplies with idea sex. And we can have it all the time. We can have multiple partners. We can do weird stuff. It is some freaky, tantric sex connection where your ideas and others collide to make something new. It is the pleasure of sex and the joy of birth all in a moment. Sharing anything less is masturbation.

When I write, I need to reference other people. Each of the thinkers that have influenced me have put ideas out into the world for others to take and do what they will. There is no pretending for me that my thoughts are only my own. It is just the unique, swirling combination of my experiences and my days. 

The Result
The trouble is none of this is possible if we don’t share our thoughts and our work. 

You have to make yourself available and vulnerable in a completely human way. It’s terrifying and exciting all at once. And it requires you to sort out your thoughts and make something.

Blackout poet and author Austin Kleon takes the creative process to heart. While inspiration or genius, or whatever you may call it, may not come every time we sit down, Kleon believes in the process of delivering and publishing work constantly to draw that genius closer. Sometimes it hits, sometimes it doesn’t. 

We're meant to do this. Idea sex is the new evolution. As psychedelic explorer Terence McKenna put it, biological evolution ended with language. We have transformed the landscape of the world with our idea sex. And the more we come together, the more complex we get. Matt Ridley points out in his brilliant TED talk that no single person in this world knows how to make a pencil, much less a computer mouse. Comedian Joe Rogan considers the sophisticated level of which our world operates by asking, "If I left you alone in the woods with a hatchet, how long before you can send me an email?" We are nothing without one another because there is no artist without audience. There is no artist without art.

Nothing is original. Nothing is instant. So go have idea sex and you’re sure to change the world in the process.