I have a friend who likes to say, whenever you ask him how he’s doing: “Livin’ the dream.” That always bothered me a little. Perhaps this is my melancholic, artist side showing, but I was like, “Really? You’re always having a fantastic day? Life feels like a dream… all the time?” How, I wondered, was that even possible? But now, I think he was right… just not in the way he probably meant it.
One of the most interesting parts of my journey as a human has been these past few years of re-contextualizing my understanding of reality. Which is a fancy way of saying I had a mid-life crisis. But what’s so bad about a crisis?
Doesn’t every great story begin with some dramatic moment, an “inciting incident”? I heard it said once that every moment of crisis is an invitation to greater awakening, deeper awareness. I liked that. After all, what good is life, or anything for that matter, if you’re missing it?
It seems that the artist is especially sensitive to such reckonings. Anne Lamott once wrote that “this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, ‘How alive am I willing to be?’” I never fully understood that until recently.
If our job is to build new worlds and imagine alternative realities, then awareness, I should think, is a vocational requirement. We have to be so tapped into life to even be capable of inviting others into deeper experiences of it. We would have to be more in tune with the way things are if we wanted to be true to our craft and calling.
And that, my friend, is exactly why I think so many artists go crazy—truly. Because life starts to feel a little shaky when you are weaving in and out of dream states. You start to realize that everything, maybe even you are an idea, a projection of the imagination.
Or, as Morpheus says in The Matrix: “What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”
What we call life is often not as real as we might think.
Ever rushed through your day and failed to notice the clouds?
Ever met someone for coffee and struggled to look them in the eyes because you were so nervous or distracted?
Ever driven down the road and seen something for the first time that was probably always there?
As humans, we are often discovering deeper ways of being, sometimes without even knowing that’s what is happening. As artists, we have an opportunity to guide others into this exploration of themselves. At least, that’s how I think of what we do.
This week on the podcast, Kelton and I talk about his tattoo and explore the tale of the “Ten Bulls,” a series of short poems in Zen Buddhism. We also discuss Pedro Calderon de la Barca's classic “Life is a Dream,” the seemingly subjective nature of reality, and what all this has to do with creativity. Listen in here:
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If you’ve ever wondered what all of this is really about or had a nagging suspicion that there was more to life than meets the eye (and not be content with simple explanations), then you’ll probably enjoy this one. It’s one of my favorite subjects because it is immensely practical.
If life is a little less serious than we thought, then there is a lot more room to play, to have fun, to explore who and what we are. And if art is anything, shouldn’t it at the very least, and essentially, be fun? I’ll let you decide for yourself. I could be completely wrong about that.
Then again, maybe you’re just dreaming.
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