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:
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:
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?