Another Odd Place for a Hill

The Ongoing Life and Education of Jody Aberdeen

Why I’ll (Likely) Never Go Full Tinfoil Hat

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Two months into 2016, and I’m experiencing a spiritual awakening, more intense and subtle than any other growth spurt in my life.

Tracking my old journal and blog entries going back numerous years, I see that “ambling up the mountainside”, an image I’ve used in the past to describe my personal development, is a very apt description. Growth manifests for me in rapid and powerful bursts, like the stages of a moonshot rocket dropping away in quick succession. The past nine years has been such a trajectory, one that’s taken a sharper, upward angle in the past six months alone.

For the past month, I’ve been attuned to energies. Rather than just an intellectual concept, or a nice insight that makes me look good with the in-crowd at personal development cocktail parties, I’m experiencing the vibrational reality of my world. Like older Han Solo, I can declare of these direct experiences, “it’s real, all of it.”

So why haven’t I shed my store-bought clothes for a hemp-rope toga, changed my name to Jody “Togananda” Aberdeen, and started walking barefoot around the suburban wilderness, shaking a tambourine and proclaiming to anyone who would listen the evils of the Illuminati and its control over the weather?

I’m not saying that Togananda won’t ever become a real thing – look through the archives of this blog alone, and you’ll see skepticism about a lot of things I’ve since embraced – but there’s something just plain…well, inauthentic about going full tinfoil hat simply because I’m experiencing a new phenomenon that the mainstreams of science and North American culture have not yet embraced.

When confronted by a challenge to one’s existing definitions of reality, it’s important to test them yourself, and to do so according to one’s own standards of satisfaction, before embracing it

Historian James Burke once said, maybe overly broadly, of Aristotle that “if you rejected one bit of Aristotle, you rejected it all, because his was a package deal”. I feel a similar sentiment with this idea of holistic knowledge. If you accept a new paradigm as true, you must also accept it within the context of what we already know to be true. That means using your left brain, logic, your rational faculties, maybe even your identity and ego.

In short, if your stated aim is total knowledge, then you can’t completely throw out what you already know simply because something new presents itself.

Energy healing, for example, may supplant cognitive therapy in a few individual cases. Those people may get the breakthroughs they need from a Reiki session, or a guided meditation.

However, that doesn’t mean that we take an activist stand against psychotherapy, because that modality undoubtedly helps millions of people around the world every day.

Similarly, I’m pretty well versed on conspiracy theories of the day – 9/11, UFO coverups, chemtrails, the Lunar Landing one which, frankly, annoys the crap out of me to no end, etc.. – and I definitely don’t doubt that there are hidden, shadowy forces at play in the ruling courts and boardrooms of the planet today.

However, I’ve also stood in line at the MTO to get my plate stickers renewed, went through a divorce proceeding that took years, and even worked for a government agency and watched the molasses-like funding approval process for non-profits in action (which could just as easily be spelled “inaction”).

I find it hard to believe, from a common sense standpoint alone, that the same type of institutional government that takes six months to fill a pothole can somehow employ millions of people to pull off a wide-scale conspiracy without a single credible leak making the evening news.

But just try telling that to a True Believer.boycotteverything

The people who go Full Tinfoil Hat find some type of deep connection to something just outside of our accepted reality, which is fine, but they lose it when they throw out their own reason and common sense, which in turn causes them to throw out other things that they already know to work.

Why they do this is simple: the false belief somehow connected with them on a deep personal level, and they hinged their reputations and entire worldviews on it, as part of their own version of everyone’s desire to find meaning in the inherently meaningless lives we all lead. That’s why, having accepted the initial data, they then shut the door on further updates to that same information, even if the updates show that the original data was false. This makes them virtually no different in their thinking to religious fundamentalists.

We can’t completely abandon reason in the domains of life where reason works. Science, and the scientific method, may be reaching its limits in terms of what it can do for us, and it’s true that it was never designed to teach us spiritual principles. It was designed for the empirical world, and in that capacity, it has manifested wonders. It’s our own irrational economic and cultural behaviours that have created the environmental and social messes we now find ourselves in, not science itself.

All of this is a digression, in any case. Speaking personally, I will never abandon reason, but I won’t be dominated by it, either. It’s possible to have multiple conflicting realities overlapping. That’s not a failure of intellect: that is life. It’s simply a matter of integrating them into a worldview that works.

For this reason, I will never be fully “woo woo” spiritual, nor will I be a staunch rationalist skeptic. The clincher for any paradigm shift will always be, for me, direct experience of that new paradigm: that’s how I know energetic healing is real, that the Universe responds to intentions and aligned actions; that medicines and therapies and meditation all work to heal us.

Over the past few months, I’ve gotten a strong impression that my mission in life is to help birth the next great ideas that will transform the world and speed along this evolutionary shift that’s happening. That means remaining credible, looking at the Shift the way those who haven’t done any of this work will see it.

This is something that I’ve done naturally, which devotees to movements I’ve dabbled in have mistaken as a lack of commitment to the cause. That’s not what it is. Rather, it’s a commitment to a larger mission of reconciling the old and new, and making the paradox work for us.

Because, in the final analysis, if our commitment is to total awareness and knowledge, then it’s a package deal: we use all of our faculties, or none at all.

(Plus, tinfoil is expensive in large quantities, anyway).

2016: Function and Thrive

For 2016, I see seven visions, and from 2015, I’m carrying over three lessons, all about self-care.

New Year’s resolutions and goals are all well and good. Recapitulations of the past year, also not bad, though a little boring to read if you’re not personally involved in them.  Sometimes, though, there’s no need for expository, or explanation. The answer to the question of “how” to get any goal is simple: make a plan, then work the plan. This entry is about neither: the planning and work will happen offline, out of sight, unless I choose to share them.

No, for now, this is simply what I see, and what the achy, vulnerable feeling inside my chest tells me is the point on the horizon I need to tread towards next. The resources to manifest these visions – financial, infrastructural, creative, and human – will all appear only as a consequence of planning the work behind the vision well, and then working it with integrity.

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Seven visions, to whit, for 2016, either achieved or in progress by this day a year from now:

  • Moving back to the Greater Hamilton Area
  • To rescue and adopt a canine companion for Bella
  • A nutritious diet that is consistent with compassion for animals
  • A completed second fiction novel
  • A thriving, profitable referral network (Menagerie, which you’ll be hearing more about soon…)
  • A work-life context that balances service with the personal space I need to function and thrive.
  • A week long trip away to Paris

The three lessons in self-care that I’m bringing with me from 2015 are:

Mental Self-Care:  Late in the fall, I got depressed and moody for absolutely no reason. I hid it well….for a while, but when it grew in intensity and started to impact my work and relationships with other people – and when nothing in my immediate circumstances could explain why – I went to my doctor. Symptoms of a mood disorder, he told me. I’m awaiting the appointment for my psych referral, and in the meantime, I have sat with counselors and have brought back strategies that have helped me stay chill in the past. I meditate daily once again, I journal, I practice gratitude. Some days, the symptoms return, despite these efforts, and it’s just a matter of riding them out. Embracing my introversion and keeping to myself has proven effective (even if it’s made me slightly unpopular). Until I get a formal medical diagnosis, I’m drawing no other conclusions, just that this is a thing I now have to monitor, on par with my weight, diet, and exercise.

I have supported mental health initiatives such as Bell’s “Let’s Talk” to take the stigma out of mental illness through public conversation, and now that I may have one myself – indeed, it’s possible I’ve had this for a long time, but didn’t recognize it for what it was – I will walk my own talk and share in the hopes of helping others coming to the same realization. That starts, I suppose, with this open disclosure.

Physical Self-Care:  I’m now 45 pounds over my optimal weight, according to my last physical at the start of September. What started out as foot pain from wearing bad slippers and shoes led to me stopping going to the gym on a regular basis. It happened so fast that I didn’t even see it. With better shoes and a new gym membership that lets me exercise 24/7, I will be making regular workouts a priority on par with client work.

Creative Self-Care: I am now five years overdue on “Overlife”. The book’s undergone so many revisions and reboots that every time I work on it, a part of me is waiting for that reset button to click off yet again. This time, I have the elements in place, but I’m noticing that I am out of practice with my artistry, and there is a spillover effect into my ghostwriting and editing. Similar to my physical health, I let a small week-long lapse from my story turn into a months-long absence. Moving forward, I am making time in my regular schedule for storytelling.

2015 was supposed to have been my year. It did not disappoint, but it was just the beginning. There’s so much more to come in 2016.  Even so, the whole point of celebrating this arbitrary holiday, for many people, is the reminder that we start again, no matter where we are, no matter how final our circumstances may be. If you’re around to witness the holiday, it’s not the end.  If you haven’t gotten or created everything you wanted to get or create, it’s not the end. If you screwed up somehow in 2015, it’s not the end.  As the saying goes, “every saint has a past; every sinner a future”. As long as there is life, there is possibility, and thus, always another turn at the game.

Remember that today and tomorrow, when, from all of our different walks of life, we all start again.

janus

Stardust

There was once a wild thing that was lost….

I last saw him in the fall, some early blazing sunset of crimson when my legs still carried the skin memory of classroom carpets and little plastic trucks.  The world was much more magical then.  There was a magic in the uncertainty of not knowing what was so, or how things worked.  Without answers, all questioners are left to create.

Notice that I said “create”, not “hypothesize”, for hypothesis is the offspring of science, and science is about finding answers.  Nor is that to make science wrong and magic right. Science carries its wonder in the form of the answers; magic in its wondering questions.  Two different flavours, depending on your appetite.

And magical thinking…it’s an eternal preserve of youth, of those wild creatures we used to have and be before we civilized ourselves with adulthood, and set aside our childish things.

stardustperdita

The trigger for this latest ramble? I finished reading Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust” in all of its glorious melody. And I found I had to switch my entire way of being to get into it, to pick a time and a place when I knew I would have no other distractions. The short attention spans and busy times of adulthood have a cost in our appreciation of formidable language. At best, we can skip off the surface like a fast-moving schooner or a hapless meteorite, but by gods, once you’ve broken through, the letters and images and feelings just flow around you like an ocean of warm honey.

If you haven’t read “Stardust”, do so, and I won’t spoil anything major, but the notion, just the whole premise of the back of the book, stirs old feelings. A star falls from the sky, and a young man embarks on a journey to retrieve it for his young lover. But to get it, Tristan must cross into the land of Faerie, a parallel world where the star is a beautiful woman, now separated from her thousands of brothers and sisters who wander the night for eternity.

Yvaine, the Star, can never go back to them – “stars fall. They don’t go back up again”, she remarks – and so no matter the outcome, she is assured to live forever on Earth in the Faerie world, looking up from great distances.  Tristan, for his part, leaves behind his family – a father, mother, and sister – who love him dearly, and whom he loves in return, but not as much as the adventure on the other side of the wall.

It’s a world of transfiguration and magical objects, of sky galleons and unicorns, nothing in and of itself unique to Gaiman by any stretch, nor is it simply the meter and flourish of his words that’s gripped me.  Too much analysis becomes dissection, and kills the thing it aims to study in the process. This is the sum total process of the experience that I’m talking about.

flammarion

That experience took me somewhere beyond the book and the story, to something close to infant memory.  I remember a thick quilt of deep blue, like twilight sky, painted with big yellow stars and crescent moons with smiling, sleepy faces on them.  And I remember as a child being taken out at night to look up at whatever faint stars managed to pierce the light shield of our cities. I remember not being sure of what they were, but looking at them and thinking about the images on the quilt.

Not long after – maybe a little too early – my mom, who worked as a library clerk, brought home a kid’s book on space. I learned that science had found the stars to be giant burning balls of hydrogen that were billions of miles away, and that they were, in fact, not “diamonds in the sky’, but more massive than hundreds of Earths put together. This, I learned, was what the stars really were. Armed with this knowledge, I shared with my classmates, only to be ridiculed. “That’s dumb,” said one kid named Ryan. “Stars are pieces of planets. My dad told me so!”

And I never forgot that, because it meant I was so much smarter than that kid. I had read the book!  I knew what he didn’t, thanks to my Mom.  In the time afterwards, anytime I’d see that quilt, I’d notice the smiling star-faces and crescent moons, and the pleasant, comfortable feeling that came from seeing those familiar forms, and then remember “Oh, that’s not what stars actually are”, and the feeling would go away. An early victim of the Curse of Knowledge.

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What if stars were people? An absurd question, but in Faerie they are and, thus, valid to ask. On this side of Wall, the town in the ordinary world that borders the other land, they’re just elements, no spirits, no consciousness. In the real world – our world –  everything is just something that happens, with no meaning or significance. A star falls out of the sky and it’s just a rock smoldering inside a crater, if it even makes it to earth.

Faerie is where so many of our wild selves went, one day, long ago, the parts of us that came up with their own answers to our questions about what the world was.  The parts of us that invented the universe in our own image.

One night, when we were all too young, not long after fact replaced story, they stole out of our homes, like jealous and heartbroken cats that run away after the arrival of a new baby. They crept through the village, past the guards, and bolted through the hole in the wall into the wild, leaving us to discover their departure only too late, to wonder at their adventures and worry about their survival. And we’re left to wonder about it for so long afterwards, well into the conventional drab routine of adulthood. That may be an accidental reason why so many of “Stardust”s pages just sigh with longing.

But what a wild thing I used to have, and be, that primal quality of a five year old living his life in ignorance, coloring his pages with crayons and getting lost in his own limbic imaginings.  And after all these long years of adulthood concerns, of money and entrepreneurship, of services to render and bills to pay, I had wondered where he had gone.

“Stardust” helped me see that that part of me is still alive and well, roving out there in the forests, the mountains, and the skies of that other world, of Faerie.

shootingstar

The Fall Equilibrium

Since I’ve started getting things in my life in order, I’ve had very little I’ve wanted to write about.  Ideas, for sure, but the motivation isn’t there.

The discovery: my historical motivation to write was catharsis, rooted in the dysfunctions of my life. Either that, or I’ve been getting lazy, plain and simple.  For the sake of writing this latest rant, let’s assume it’s the first one.

fomo

Reviewing some of the entries of months and years past, I see how just how much of my own motivation was rooted in angst, FOMO (fear of missing out), regrets at actually missing out, recrimination, or just some kind of unpleasantness.  Then I chose to take the Landmark Forum and continued, without any major break, in that personal development and training for nearly two years.

Now, as start my first big pause in this education, I find myself so well versed in the tools of clear thinking, becoming present, and creating from nothing, that my regrets and recriminations don’t motivate me like they used to.

All of that sure sounds very good, but it comes with a cost: my historical sources of motivation to write are now depleted. It’s gotten to the point that even indulging in topics like my divorce, the trips I didn’t get to take in my twenties, the debts, the missed goals, lackluster health…none of it gets me down or angry like it used to.  I’m not quite bulletproof – just catch me when I’m tired or overworked and I’ll flirt with going to the Dark Place – but I re-center myself very quickly.

For the first time in my adult life, I am at peace, and I have nothing to say.  Or is that in and of itself a story?

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The other part of it is my audience.  I want the people in my life, in whatever close or faraway orbits they may have, to know me, to see what’s actually happening in my life, not because of vanity or Facebook celebrity, but because it’s easier.  I like the idea of being myself with everyone that I run into, and the practicalities of daily living make this an option that I can’t always choose.

But who cares?  Right?  I mean that in the most literal sense: who cares what’s happening with me?  Who’s interested?  And if no one’s interested, why write?  Why share?

Maybe that’s why lately I’ve spent my time pontificating on issues of the day or big ideas. There are always plenty of those to be bandied about.

Again, it’s not for lack of challenges, I still have plenty of those.  It’s just that the drama around solving them is mostly gone.  There’s an ease in doing what needs to be done.  Ghostwriting wasn’t proving to be a business I was enjoying, so I rejigged my services to focus on editing, with “content creation” being an additional charge, and now it’s off to get new clients.

I’m 25 pounds overweight according to my recent checkup and it’s now simply making more time for cardio at the gym and slashing sugar from my diet. Even when I do freak out about overlapping deadlines that I didn’t plan properly, I know that it’s because I didn’t plan properly, or didn’t work the plan, so I just…well, stop doing that and finish what needs to get done.

Everything’s just so functional, and whatever isn’t working as well as I’d like is in the process of starting to work.

What do you write about when your life is good?

Maybe this is why so many of the self-help gurus write and re-write the same platitudes, over and over again in different forms, what Chip and Dan Heath call”semantic stretch”, the overuse and subsequent exhaustion of a term or expression (such as “awesome”).  The constant recycling of words like “possibility” or “extraordinary” or “amazing” dilutes and devalues the significance of the words with each use, until eventually, they’re just empty slogans at best, neither stirring the hearts and minds of the listener nor invoking any feeling in the speaker.  That’s not the kind of writer I want to be.

balls

In “Garden State”, there’s a friend of Zach Braff’s protagonist who secured a patent for silent Velcro when he was still in high school.  The residuals from the patent made him a multi-millionaire, and by the time we find him in the film, he spends his days living in a big empty mansion, doing mostly nothing.

Years ago, my math-savvy friend Michael told me that one of the consequences of applying the Nash Equilibrium to economics was that economic competition stopped altogether.

In Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” (the book, not the movie), Johnny Rico is dropped on a planet that’s only evolved the most basic lifeforms – grasses and mosses, mostly – because of low levels of radiation that would have otherwise caused evolution.  The planet’s growth was “literally retarded”, according to Rico’s description, in the absence of widespread cell death and mutations.

At the end of the film “Maverick”, Bret Maverick leaves a bag with half of his hard-won poker money near his tub in the spa, far away from his gun, knowing that Mrs. Bransford would come to steal it.  The reason? He was excited at the thought of winning it all back again.

In “Babylon 5”, it’s revealed that the ancient race colloquially known as “the Shadows” would go to the worlds of younger, evolving races and cause strife and war.  They described it like “knocking over an anthill”, solely done to spur on evolution, as most of their hapless victims would rebuild stronger than before.

All of these share a common thread: how we react to balance. It seems that the successful attainment of one’s goals brings two results: a blissed-out and resilient mental stillness and satisfaction with life coupled with a lack of creative drive to do more.

Maybe this is why some rich people keep seeking to add more millions to their fortunes, or why Bohemian artists who struggle to pay bills or eat actual meals somehow become prolific with their works, but never get ahead.

fruit-ladder

Creativity comes from struggle, not necessarily suffering – which can be distinct from struggle – but definitely from not having all one’s needs met.  The rich and successful seem to intuitively understand this, which is why they know the thing to do upon achieving anything is to set a higher goal than the last one.  Poor broke-ass buggers like me, meanwhile, do the opposite: when we reach equilibrium, we then find ways to sabotage what we’ve already achieved – missing a bill payment, procrastinating until the last minute, getting lazy – so that we can experience that sense of drive and purpose all over again.

And as much as I am enjoying my current respite, it may soon be time to step things up, to start trying for something again.  I only nominally care about achievement or status at this point: my creative destiny may depend on knocking myself out of equilibrium again and getting into struggle mode.  The last time I was striving for something, it was to find a new home to live in with my rescue dog Bella, about a year ago.  I haven’t had any new or grand challenges since.

This time, like last time, when I do knock everything out of balance, I’ll aim to fall upwards.  At least then I won’t only be doing it for the story that would follow.

How I Solved My FOMO with the Multiverse

What makes for a full summer?

Canadians have maybe three to four months’ worth of warm, summer-like weather for the most part.  What that creates in some of us is a quiet awareness in the background of our daily experience that borders on anxiety.  It goes something like this: let us take in the pool, the patio, the cottage, and the sun while we can, for tomorrow we freeze.

That would explain the sudden spike in FOMO during the warmer months.

As I write this sentence, I’m sitting at my dining room table as Labour Day afternoon gives way to Labour Day evening.  A towel has been wrapped around my waist for the past hour, having gotten out of the complex swimming pool just in time to grab a cold beer and barbecue some sirloin and sliced zucchini.  Outside, a warm and heavy breeze is blowing through the trees while I wait for the lifeguard to return from dinner break and re-open the pool for what I suspect will be the last time this season.  Afterwards, I’m contemplating a walk over to Dairy Queen with my dog and sitting under the old tree overlooking a nearby park as the sun comes down.  Maybe with a good book.

Labour Day 2015 had a lot of things happening in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area.  Other options I could have taken today include:

– Taken the train to Fan Expo and gotten my nerd-on with thousands of other Toronto-area geeks clamouring down the parking garage entrance to the Metro Convention Centre.
– Taken the train to the Canadian National Exhibition (a.k.a the CNE or “The Ex” for you non-Toronto folk) and risked my life by riding hastily assembled rollercoasters and eating delicious fried foods.
– Hung out anywhere near the lakeshore to watch the Air Show.
– Gone to see the Jays play.
– Headed down the road to Hamilton to watch the Ti-Cats play in the Labour Day special with my Hamilton crew.
– Probably at least two dozen other things happening in the area within an hour’s drive.

I did none of those things.  Instead, I stayed home in glorious A/C, editing and writing for my clients and cleaning up a bit.  And feeling a bit guilty for not making the most out of the last “official” day of summer in the process, especially after my Facebook and Instagram feeds exploded with pics of people enjoying all of those things.  That’s what the FOMO does.

A SUMMER OF MISSED OPPORTUNITIES?

Back last winter, when my head was filled with possibilities of instant riches and massive immediate success, I pictured that this summer would have been THE season in which I would have waves of ridiculous wealth coming in with little to no work (or at least work that felt like “work”).

And to be sure, I came pretty damn close, drawing in an abundance of work and money…but it was all massively time consuming.  I had to evolve a level of personal organization that was beyond what I wanted to have, and what the ended up looking like was Jody at his laptop for most of his day and evening.

The impact was that I essentially became a hermit, and I got so busy that I missed out on two great times with my friends: my Fraternity chapter’s weekend retreat at an amazing cottage in Huntsville; and my buddy Marc’s 30th birthday in Toronto.

At times like these, the FOMO flares up, and its unanswerable question lingers in my mind: am I making the most of the summer?   This question isn’t the question, though: it’s the lead-in to the bigger question: am I making the most of my life?

Enter Walter Bishop

With the free time I did have during late nights or lazy weekend mornings, I got into the ABC show “Fringe” via Netflix. My housemate Dani said that her previous housemate had described the show as “drugs”, and I can see why. I was enthralled, especially with the second season’s storyline involving an alternate universe overlapping ours in which the 9/11 attacks took place only in Washington, leaving the Twin Towers standing; zeppelins regularly dock at the Empire State Building’s observation deck; and personal computing is so advanced that there hasn’t been a ballpoint pen made for decades.  I was hooked.

The multiverse, however, is certainly not a new concept to me.  The whole premise of my novel “Convergence” is built on the possibilities of overlapping alternate realities created by our choices.  But the multiverse is definitely taking off in popular culture.  There’s even a whole New Age practice called quantum jumping, in which you can psychically “connect” with your alternate in a parallel universe who has everything that you want and whose knowledge and skills you can access, sort of like a certain Jet Li movie, but without any killing.

But if every choice generates its own universe, as spiritual thinkers and cutting-edge astrophysicists alike argue is the case, then there’s absolutely no need for FOMO.  There is no missing out.

Everything All The Time

Think about it.  FOMO, by its very nature, implies that our choices are necessary limits to the full experience of life. But within a multiverse perspective, it’s impossible NOT to experience everything fully, because the alternate versions of ourselves, when viewed as a collective being, are doing that all the time.

Okay, Mr. Smartypants, I’m sure you’re thinking, then maybe this little version of me isn’t so happy with the prospect of not having taken that trip to Paris.  I could give a crap about what the Alternate Me has done about it. What about the individual in this universe?

Frankly, the individual in this universe can chill the fuck out.

Choice is a privilege that many people don’t have.  I think on a certain level, we’re all aware of this, which is why we are so preoccupied with screwing it up. We value choice as a precious resource. However, there is no screwing it up.  Every possibility gets fulfilled in the multiverse theory.  More than that, there are now ways emerging in advanced spiritual practice – I’m sure theoretical physics will catch up to this as well – that claim to allow you to shift your experience into a universe that you actually want to experience.

And here’s the kicker: if such practices work, be they science or pseudoscience-based, we’ll never know, because they involve shifting the reality around us, the water in which we swim.  Any experimentation to verify a shift into a new universe would have to take place outside linear time, a capability that we are still thousands of years away from having.

Quantum jumping seems to be the closest to communicating with the alternate universes, though from what little I know of it, it seems to be that you only get little snippets of the alternate you’s insights, not the full enchilada of his or her experience.

Still, simply the knowledge that there is, somewhere out there in the firmament, a reality in which you did take that trip to Laos, or didn’t screw it up with that girl, or stayed in that job…that knowledge should bring you comfort.  And if it’s not enough, it should at least show you the importance of self-exploration, for that appears to be the access to experiencing the other “yous”.

Once, my favourite author since childhood, Whitley Strieber, had asked in meditation to see different worlds. You can peruse his life’s work at his website for a more vivid picture of what that looks like. The Coles Notes version: he got to experience, in deep meditation and dreaming, what it would be like to be another version of him living in versions of Earth much different than this one. If it worked for him, why not for me?  For you?

If anything, both FOMO and the possibility of the multiverse in which all choices get made should give us pause to appreciate the present.

And what about the last of summer? In recent years, I’ve found autumn to be something of a relief, not just from heat, but from pressure: namely, the FOMO. When the hot sunny days are here, unique opportunities for a full experience of life present themselves, especially in a city where those opportunities only have a life span of a third of a year.

Now that we’re in the last of these hot days, when some sanity and productivity returns to the population’s sensibilities, the feeling will fade. Soon, sitting insife to do my life’s work won’t seem an imposition to the temporary delights of Now lurking outside my door.

Strawberry Fields Forever

I find the lack of reality disturbing. You should, too.

The 21st Century zeitgeist is precisely this whole idea that there is no ultimate reality. At best, we can have consensus reality, an agreement between a sufficiently diverse, numerous, and qualified body of the human species on a specific set of qualities and measures that determine what’s “real” and what’s “imagined”.

It would be fine if this was just limited to metaphysics and psychology, but there’s no way such an inquiry can be contained inside of any one discipline. All disciplines are invented by the human mind, and do not exist in “nature”: that is, the “outer” world of five senses, three dimensions of space, and one dimension of time.

Problem is, that “outer” world of four dimensions only occurs to us through five imperfect biological senses that we have always known are susceptible to error. Consensus reality helps with this – this is why scientists must subject their data to peer evaluation and confirmation – but in the end, there is still a margin for error, no matter how slight, in how humans define their “reality”.

Agreement Reality

I learned a new term at my seminar recently: an “agreement reality”. I have no idea what Landmark’s actual definition of the term is, and for the purposes of this thoughtpiece, I don’t care. All I know is that it’s connected to Mount Everest, Roger Bannister, and the boiling point of water in a stovetop pot. An agreement reality, to me, is synonymous with consensus reality.

Often, it takes just one highly publicized breaking of the agreement to open up space for the advancement of all humanity. You look at them and it’s almost as if the vast majority of people were hanging back for a second and third breakthrough, just to make sure the first wasn’t just a fluke.

A Watched Pot Always Boils

Mount Everest was all but unclimbable until 1953. After 1953, a few more made the ascent. Soon enough, dozens of people were conquering Everest every year.

No one could run a mile in four minutes. When Roger Bannister did it to great fanfare, six people broke the four minute mile the next year.

A boiling pot of water on my stove will shimmer, then ripple, but as soon as I see one bubble, three more appear, than ten, and then it’s roiling, all within a few seconds.

But people aren’t physical objects. Surely some partisan of a Newtonian reality is reading this and finding everything wrong with these metaphors, but that’s just it: you get the idea. Really, you get the idea, because it’s all a series of shared ideas about the world: it’s all made up. And today, that’s what the cutting edge of scientific inquiry is saying is the truth of the matter (indeed, the truth of all matter).

You create your own reality. How much scorn and rejection have those who have made this statement endured at the hands of the very scientific community that’s now taking a fresh look at the nature of reality and thinking “hmmm……”? Could the the scientists simply be the last ones to get in on the joke? Could the mystics and shamans of thousands of years ago right up until 2015 have gotten to it first by other means, using other languages?

Recently, scientists proved the observer paradox via actual experimentation. They’re even fashioning a test to see if the entire universe – from the smallest atoms making up the lettuce leaves in your Caesar salad to the most distant proto-galaxy in the Ultra Deep Field – isn’t some computer simulation cooked up by our descendants from far in the future.

Pay No Attention To the Man Behind The Curtain

Are you bothered by this? I am. And you should be, because if it’s not already just there for us, if the man behind the curtain in the Great Wizard’s hall turns out to be us, then we’re responsible for a lot more than the environment or poverty. We’ve got to take great responsibility with what we create with our intentions, words, and actions, because it’s creating the world around us. These scientists, by even questioning our agreement reality, are remaking the world in language.

So there may be no reality outside of ourselves…fo’ realz. That’s some really sour candy to suck on.

Strawberry fields

Party Like It’s 1199

I would suspect that this discomfort experienced by both Western and Non-Western peoples at this idea are one unacknowledged force behind the fundamentalist backlash we are experiencing worldwide. Of course, the question of reality as a motive for violence probably factors in a little less significantly for the guys being bombed from the sky by flying robots than, say, the getting bombed by flying robots thing. Either way, there’s no justification for violence, even if you can also understand their rationale for choosing a way of life based in Stone Age thinking, and being willing to kill for it.

If the trends seem to be leading to a future with no solid reality that exists outside of our perception of it, or even our own creation, then the only place to find certainty is in the past. (Steven Pressfield, screenwriter and author of “The War of Art”, touches on the differences between the artist and the fundamentalist: you should read his book for his debate-provoking insights.)

Can’t Touch This

If my education over the past five years has shown me anything, it’s that people will justify anything with anything, including avoiding responsibility. This isn’t the same as control. Everyone from Warren Buffett to Shifu from “Kung Fu Panda” will tell you: you can’t have a baby nine months faster by getting nine women pregnant. A peach seed will never grow into an apple tree (not without some serious genetic engineering, anyway).

Responsibility, however, involves acknowledging one’s power to alter the conditions that are within one’s sphere of influence. When you look at it, that sphere can be much larger than you might expect for yourself. That means that we may be on the hook for creating more violence, cynicism, pollution, heartbreaks, atrocities, and scandals in the world than we want to believe. And that would well and truly suck.

So where does that assertion leave us on the question of reality? For myself, I still would love to have science verify everything. I would love to know there’s something beyond what my mind and body can touch.

And it’s a simple matter of faith that science will get there eventually. But when science shows a pattern of being the slowest on the uptake, then I have to wonder if Mercury really does fuck everything up when it’s in retrograde, or if a simple act of visualization can bring me that car and ideal body faster. I have to wonder if meditation in the park may legit bring about world peace and harmony.

Reality.  Nothing is real, nothing to get hung about. Seriously, why aren’t you freaking out?

Channeling My Inner Klosterman

A few weeks ago, on my way to a birthday barbecue with my girlfriend’s family in St. Catharines, I called in an order to the Universe for an answer to this question: what’s the thing that I’ve wanted to say for weeks, but haven’t said out loud for fear of offending friends, inviting disagreement, or otherwise looking bad?

On the traffic-laden drive down from Clarkson, I found myself activating the Voice Recorder on my phone.  My order to the universe had come back in 30 minutes or less.  Here it is transcribed,  cleaned up only for grammar and spelling and such things:

——-

When you live in a generation in which everyone is raised to be a superstar, the only way to buck the trend is to deliberately choose ‘failure” and mediocrity.

There actually is nothing great about our generation.  We’re a privileged little bunch of shits.  Even if you were born broke, you’re still born with these expectations that someone is just going to hand you a job.

Everything gets cheapened and diluted here. Everyone’s got to be a superstar which only cheapens and dilutes superstardom.

When the previous generation found out that they weren’t all going to be movie stars and astronauts, they started fight clubs.  When this generation finds out the same, they start Tumblr feeds.

Everybody is a sudden expert. When did everyone become such a fucking expert?   You write a couple of things and suddenly you’re an expert author and writer and coach  You open up a small mom and pop shop in the middle of a shit part of town, and suddenly you’re an “entrepreneur”.

Even worse, you may decide you’re going to be an entrepreneur and your whole business revolves around telling other people how to be an entrepreneur.  You got rich off of nothing, like a snake eating its own tail, like blowing oneself.  That’s really what it is.  Imagine an entire generation that makes its fortune off of masturbation, auto erotic asphyxiation.

And in the face of this, all of these images of mansions, we have McMansions.  Someone figured out how make a widget for mansions, too, as if there wasn’t already a market for it, as if you couldn’t already get rich doing that.  And now you go about making six figures and still being broke, living the same type of lifestyle you vowed you wouldn’t live.

Where are the authentic people anymore, the real ones?  They ‘re living poor, not beyond their means.  They’re leaving for each other to make themselves happy.  And yeah, they get into scrapes, they get into fights, they sometimes don’t vote or pay their taxes or credit cards, but they try their best.  But this isn’t an avocation for the working man and woman, either. It’s just for something that’s just goddamn real for a change.

Bigger species on this planet, dinosaurs and mastodons, died out because they consumed too many resources and when the environment changed, there wasn’t enough for them to fill their bellies.  And we know what we’re living through: there is an overabundance of things here, but at an environmental expense, and all the people living large, they’re just tomorrow’s dinosaurs: what happens when things dry up?  How will you live without your mansions, without your trust funds, without your swimming pools and movie stars?  What are you going to have then?

Maybe the single biggest hypocrisy out of this generation has been that we vowed we wouldn’t be workaholic parents and divorcees, that we would lead good meaningful lives, we would make something of ourselves, and then stay together for the sake of the kids and raise the kids well on solid values.  Instead what we’ve done is turn dating into a commodity.  We have a higher divorce rate than our parents did, and we’re just as hooked on the toys growing up as we were when we were kids.  Maybe even more than our parents.  Who here doesn’t have an iPod?

chuck klosterman

Lessons from a Ghostwriter (So Far) – Part 1

invocationofthemusesIn theory, the preference among those lost in the maze of freelancing should be to heed only the advice of those who have already found their way into the clearing of success and establishment.

However, we can also think of freelancing as a labyrinth, and the nature of a labyrinth is that no matter how ahead or behind you may be compared to others, you’ll eventually find your way out.  This means that sometimes it bears listening to someone who’s still in the brush, but fifty feet ahead of you on the same path.

They may not be able to speak in confidence and authenticity about the exit, but they know more about the forty-nine steps ahead of you than you do.  They will eventually get there, just like you.

In July, I’ll be a full year into full-time professional writing.  Ghostwriting as a vehicle has not yet delivered me all of the results, in the form of financial measures and renown, that I would like. As those measures have been ever-evolving throughout this process and as I have been acquiring new experiences and insights, this isn’t entirely caused by writing as a vocation.

Declaring a new path and walking it are two different things, and in the final analysis, what I want from those who would be my guides is lived experience and evidence, not mere possibilities.  

I know of no other way to be credible with those looking to take those first steps on the path to making a living and a life by doing what they love. As with any trade, the awareness is something that can only come over time.

Staying true to that commitment, I will only share what I know to be true in evidence, not theory, with those who follow after me.

LESSON 1: PRICE FOR WHAT YOUR WORK IS WORTH, NOT WHAT YOU THINK YOU’RE WORTH

In the beginning, I priced myself much lower than what the market can bear for my book ghostwriting services.  In so doing, I was able to secure clientele out of the gate who otherwise might not have wanted to pay regular rates for a new writer.  Not long afterwards, I let slip the ropes from my full time day job and set out on the open seas of freelancing with an eventual aim towards true entrepreneurship.

I don’t think I could have asked for more inspirational projects to start with, some of which are still in progress.  I’m very happy and grateful for the relationships I’ve built up with my authors during our time together.

Ten months later, though, the original pricing regimen no longer works to pay my dues, and about two months ago, I realized that the time had come to raise my rates for new clients.  Almost immediately, all the stories of self-doubt that, like most writers, I carry around in my subconscious at all times, popped up.

“You can’t raise your rates, Jody.  You haven’t been in business long enough!  You don’t deserve it!  You can’t do it!” along with other blah-blah-blahs of the background mindchatter.  This is, I would assert, a common phenomenon with many self-employed creatives.

Ultimately, the mindchatter means nothing.  Pricing ghostwriting services has nothing to do with one’s personal worth, even one’s experience, and only slightly about previous results and experience.  Pricing is entirely based on what’s practical, given the realities of what it takes to ghostwrite a whole book.

Money Buys Time, Time Equals Quality

Quality work is time-intensive, plain and simple.  You need to have the time freed up to focus on producing great content, to do your research, to learn your subject matter so proficiently that you can write in the same voice as your author, who has already spent years developing his or her own expertise in the subject.

A ghostwriter simply can’t deliver quality if what they are earning from the work doesn’t pay their bills. I’m hard pressed to imagine any professional in any other trade that would.

In such a scenario, the writer would have to take on other smaller assignments to make ends meet. This has a cost in time, momentum, and peace of mind.  Even when fulfilling on the contract, in the back of the writer’s mind hover all of those anxieties about notices and collections, debts and scarcity.

If he has to, he may even have to go back to a “J-O-B”, which would pay his bills, but significantly reduce his available fulfillment hours.

It all has a cost in the quality of the book that the writer has to deliver AND the writer’s ability to deliver. This is what has happened to me lately, and so from here on out, I have raised my prices for new clientele.  Far from being too expensive, I’ll now be priced according to the minimum amounts stated by the 2015 Writer’s Market for ghostwriting a single manuscript (roughly $20,000).

Your rate has nothing to do with your value as a person.  It’s everything to do with what you need to have in place in your life to do the work, deliver it on schedule, and do so with excellence.  Show your prospects the value of your work and how you can help them, and the right ones will hire you. Plain and simple.

(For more, read “Lessons from a Ghostwriter (So Far) – Part 2”)

The Missing Mission

artcommerceI don’t want to be a “businessman”. Never did. I’m a writer.

It’s true: by many assessments, I exhibit all the traits of an entrepreneur. Ghostwriting is a business. Coaching is a business. But I was never interested in being “in business”. All I’ve ever wanted to do is making a living and a life doing what I love.

It’s a constraint of today’s language, the contemporary nomenclature we use to describe people and the specific things those people do that carry certain similarities to each other. English has a special built-in disposition to categorization and division. Separating and parsing concepts and ideas and all of their subjects ad infinitum.

Deep down, I am not an “entrepreneur”, though I’ve described myself as such in the language of the trade. I never had a deep seated yearning to open a “business”, though in reality, that’s what I’ve done. The concepts and names seem divorced from “art” in my perception of the terminology, in a way that many of my colleagues who have “creative businesses” don’t seem to experience. As long as it occurs that way in my perception, that’s what I’ll experience, much the same way that the Inuit can experience multiple types of “snow” in their occurring of the world simply because their language has words to describe them.

I’m lacking a single word that captures the artistry and the enterprise of what I do in one fell swoop, and because of that, I’m two minds about my role in the world.

My intention again: making a living and a life doing what I love.

“Writer” is the basic word that describes the “what” of this intent.

I “am” a human being who writes, not an author, not a ghostwriter, not a copywriter, even though I “do” authoring, ghostwriting, and copywriting. “Writer” is simply “what” I am doing; the rest are all subcategorical manifestations of “how” I do what I do, not identities in and of themselves.

And yes, my intent requires learning the technicalities of business, but I’ve recently become present as to how much I’ve been trying to cloak myself (that is, my “self”) in the shiny identity of “entrepreneur”, to parse myself into the language of “business” which, in my occurring of the term, is a diminishment of what could otherwise be a spiritual calling.  I don’t share the same fascination with entrepreneurship that many of my colleagues do: like a snake eating its own tail, my journey along this path seems to have come full circle.

My authors aren’t mere “clients”, they’re friends and visionaries, partners in co-creation. When I come from that space in my work with them, we join the high vibrational “flow” of creation. When I see them as “clients”, however, it becomes stilted and non-productive, an “us and them” context sharing way too much with the corporate work I was doing before for my comfort level.

Traditionally in “business”, it’s bad to look bad, even if the thing you have to express is authentic and real. Especially if it’s real. In this way, “business” and trying to squeeze myself into “entrepreneur” is a constraint on my full self-expression.

pirate

Beyond all labels and categorizations of an imperial language, beyond the two-dimensionality of the trade, of using a social medium as a 21st Century version of newspaper want-ad, there is a far larger existence, a grander reason for why we are nowhere: that is, “now here”.

All that’s missing is a mission, a future that’s so compelling and beyond the limitations of me that I would be pulled in rather than having to push myself to enter.  I have the “what” and know the “how”.  What’s my “why”?  Mere survival doesn’t inspire me: it’s what I’m doing right now.

I don’t have one, and I feel that I need one. But what could it be? And will it stick? The half-life of all the previous candidates for a mission-centric future has averaged only months before I start looking for the next thing.

What could it be?

Until it finds me, I’m legitimately afraid that I will continue to chase my own tail and go nowhere, all the while mistaking every new lap on the same racetrack as progress.

The Cinderella Effect

The dream was lurid, and though only dead now for a few minutes as I begin, the afterglow still floats in the middle of my chest like a stubborn, anemic heartache.

Soon, it too, will be gone.

I dreamed of my classmates last night, gathered together one last time in celebration out on the town.

barThe party was joined by hundreds of others and spanned houses, hotel rooms and lobbies, bars, and coffee houses throughout the archetypal nighttime city of my subconscious, all separated by what in real life would have been great distance, but thanks to the ephemeral reality of the dream, were easily crossed in seconds and thoughts rather than steps and miles.

There was great drinking and laughing, people playing pool, dancing. A few clustered together in deep, significant conversation, engaged in their fascinating intellectual co-creation. Others sat huddled together, wiping tears from their eyes and holding each other in heartfelt love and consolation at the inevitable, drawing closer with every tick of the third hand on the clock.

Still others were nowhere to be seen, and their absence was a splinter wound on the heart: not fatal, but the ache to see their missing faces ran deep. Though not dead, they were not here, they were not now.

They had missed the only chance to step into the stream as it was tonight, and we all felt heartsick at the diminishment of “us”. As far as the moment was concerned, that diminishment was forever.

For my own avatar in this dream, I experienced him getting tired around the 3am mark. He looked around his peers with a silent, desperate reluctance. To honor the body’s desire for rest or be with this? But what else was there, after this? A sunrise and a waking up. Some dim awareness of a job and a life,of seeing the same individuals under different lights, one at a time.

Obeying his body’s needs, my dream self left the party, returning to the lobby of his hotel only to find that it was not yet the end, that there was still some money in the meter.

Drawn back to the festivities in those predawn hours one last time, my dream self returned to find many others had gone, or had changed clothes and packed their suitcases. There was talk of impending bus arrivals and airport shuttles among the travelers. A few sat in tear-stained smiles holding hands and trainstationgoodbyestaring out at the brightening glow outside the windows.

And soon, I – the person writing this now, in this reality/dream – found myself beginning to wake up into my own pre-dawn darkness….and the stubborn heartache has nearly exhausted itself. Typing on fumes with still that last mile to go.

When two or more are gathered together in a conversation that matters, it’s always a sort of fairy tale celebration, a deliberate dream weaving. Inside of it, we spin ourselves into whatever forms and avatars we choose. We dance in the conversation, we eat from the banquet table, we share our hurts, our angers, our fears, and our passions garbed in the most elegant of dresses and dapper jackets.

And then, before we know it, the clock strikes midnight, and the coach turns back into a pumpkin, and we all go home, as individuals…

It could be our preoccupation with “forever”, with “preservation”, with “keeping it going”, though born of good intentions, is misplaced. When we roll the credits on the film, or close the last page of a beloved novel, the Bittersweet leaves us present and so utterly alive with love and grief, creating a possibility of reverence that we bring to bear on the first page of the next book, the first scene of the next film. The twinned illusions of “forever” and “keeping it going” rob us of that delicious vitality.

Where we are at right now, and who we are with, carries all the permanence of a breath vapor on a cold spring morning. Bear witness to the mist while you can.

Vanilla Sky1

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