When I was a kid, I remember two very different emotional experiences, and the back-and-forth between those two experiences feels like a big part of growing up for me. And one of those experiences was that my parents were very, very religious. Like, strictly religious fundamentalist Christians. And so I grew up with that, and I grew up in the Church. And the other force in my life was my imagination, basically. It seemed like there were always things that I had to do that I didn't really want to do. You know, school, piano lessons. And a lot of my childhood was just wanting to engage with all of this stuff that was going on in my imagination, and in the books I would read-- because I read voraciously; that was really the thing I wanted to spend all my time doing. I just wanted to devour books constantly. And it just always felt to me like there was this thing pulling me away from that.
But, I really did believe in it. I identified as a Christian. And there were times when I got really, really super into the faith. I went to youth camps, and did all kinds of crazy things. So I tried really, really hard to find a way to combine those two things. Because I figured if I didn't, I'd go to hell. Like, I read The Chronicles of Narnia. I loved fantasy books and science fiction books and things like that. The Narnia books are fantasy but also a Christian allegory. But the two forces never ever seemed completely settled with one another. Which was difficult for me.
Was there a place that they came together naturally, that you didn't have to force?
No, not really. It wasn't until much later in my life that I realized that art and spirituality could be connected to one another. It seems so obvious to so many people, and so obvious to me now, but I didn't really get there until later.
Were there times when you just let yourself go with your imagination? Even though you were afraid you might go to hell?
Oh yeah, I spent tons and tons of time in that place. I did a lot of drawing, I did a lot of writing, I did a lot of creative things. It was sort of dangerous territory, because you know you might be thinking and feeling things that God might not approve of, but it didn't stop me from doing it.
When I would create things myself my tendency was to create worlds, basically. Like, really elaborately detailed characters, and stories, and different places with crazy natural properties…drawings of maps, drawings of cities, and diagrams of weapons and artifacts and characters that populated these places. I would create these really elaborate worlds, and then I would create these very personal stories of these characters who lived in them.
There was always some element of the fantastic to it. It was either science fiction, or fantasy, or some combination of the two. But I always liked there to be some grounding element of reality, or normalcy. I have always been drawn to that moment where there's this intrusion of magic into everyday life. It was very important that both of those things be there for me. The Chronicles of Narnia are a good example. It's the wardrobe moment. You know what I mean? That was the important thing. The idea that this stuff COULD happen. To anybody.
Yes! A portal.
Do you remember a specific world that you created?
Yeah, sure. Like, I created this world called Galaca. It was a classic story of a world that was doing relatively fine, until this creature, a sort of bad guy came along, and ruined it-- causing this massive cataclysm. And for whatever reason, somebody from this world, from our world, wound up there sort of by accident. He had no idea why he was there, he just showed up in this crazy place. And he eventually winds up being key in restoring this world to what it was before.
The world isn't populated by people. It's populated by animals, and nonhuman creatures. And so when you're there, you just sort of become one of these creatures. Sort of like an Avatar situation. And he winds up there, he falls in love with this girl, she gets captured-- and in the process of figuring out how to get her back, he learns a bunch of things about himself and winds up saving the world.
Classic story, very Joseph Campbell. The portal was at Stonehenge, in England. He wound up going through this portal while on vacation with his family, or something like that.
I knew there had to be some element of the fantastic, and there had to be some sort of skill that he would learn to become a better adventurer, warrior, whatever. And so I devised this system in which the world was overlaid with these invisible energy networks that I called "fabric." Right? And there was one for each of the elements. So, the people that could manipulate these fabrics were called Weavers, of course. And if you became sufficiently skilled at manipulating a fabric, you could concentrate in a particular location, or pull it together or bend it or whatever, and you could produce fire, or you could produce ice, or whatever; whichever fabric you were good at using.
And this energy permeated all over the place, but it was only accessible if you had this skill.
Wow! Did you write it like a novel?
Here's the interesting thing, actually. That's a very good question. Because: no. I didn't write it down as a novel. I started writing chapter one, but I never got any further than that. This world that I created…I envisioned it as a film. Like, either a live-action or an animated film. I also envisioned video games that would go along with this. So basically, I spent all my time drawing up posters, character sketches, maps. I drew up diagrams of the artifacts. So what I was doing, in retrospect, was this multi-media, trans-media thing.
And it's interesting, given my current interest in branding, and transmedia storytelling. I've never really thought about that before.
Right. I'd say that it's basically the same thing. You can see where it began, right?
Okay, so let me just ask you a question-- does this…where this lives inside of you, this whole thing that you did as a child-- does it live in sort of the same place that your current interest in branding and all that stuff lives? Do they live near each other? (Laughs) You know what I mean?
Well, that's interesting. They do, somewhat. Because here's the thing-- when I got into…obviously this is going to involve jumping around a little bit…but when I first got into branding , it was very… I started working in PR right out of college. It was very corporate-y, and it was very focused around the "right'" methods to get to people. The "right" methods to either convince people to like something…or whatever. It felt very extroverted. And all this stuff I made up was obviously very introverted. Very, very…just me, inside myself, doing these things as a kid.
And I guess, in many ways, the process of growing up has been the process of trying to figure out how to connect those things together. Like, build a bridge of some kind. But the world; I think a lot of people…the process of growing up in our culture, I think, did a pretty good job of convincing me that those two things couldn't connect to one another. I was like, well, this stuff isn't practical…these places my imagination goes…I'm going to have to compromise in some way to…and there is still compromise; there's always compromise. But I was like, oh, I must compromise in some way, in order to make a living or whatever.
I found it in fits and starts, but really, the full-on realization that that place-- that magical place--is where the best ideas come from in terms of creating new culture, and even doing really practical things-- was through conversations with Kim. To be perfectly honest with you. I don't think I ever fully believed that that stuff was valuable until I started having conversations with her. Which is obviously jumping way ahead, so we can go back.
Right, yes. And we'll just say that that…that is what Blue Sky is. That's the basis of what we're trying to create, what we're bringing, what we want to bring to other people. And you know that.
Yeah, yeah. And I mean-- that's one of the reasons I love you guys so much. But yeah, I guess that answers your question, sort of. Like, they lived in very different places, and those two places keep getting closer and closer together, I guess.
Yes. Excellent! That's so cool! Alright, so going back to Galaca-- do you still have any of that stuff that you created for it?
I think maybe somewhere in my parents' attic. And I can totally try and dig it up. Actually, that would really fun to go through.
It would be interesting, yeah, to see what it would be like for you to look at it again. You know?
Yeah, I always like doing that. Because there are always…it's strange. Because some of the things you do when you're younger are just really bad. (laughs) Or, not bad, but the ideas just aren't that interesting anymore, because you've had so many experiences since then that make a lot of those experiences that seemed like good ideas, they seem simple and…but there always, like, little gems. And a lot of times, they're things that you didn't even think were good and interesting at the time. Like little details, that you're like, "how did I…" …like the Fabric thing, for example. Like, that was a good idea. And I had that idea in junior high. And that was a good idea. You know.
Oh yeah, it's fabulous. And what I'm curious about is, if you went up into the attic and dug that stuff out, and looked at it all again, from this different place that you're in now…would one little piece of that bridge, that you're creating now…it's like hidden treasure, you know what I mean? Like, there would be some piece that would be sparked for you to be like, oh, this is part of the bridge that I'm trying to build between that internal, magical place and the external…that's part of what you're helping us bring.
Yeah! It's totally possible. I'm so a believer in that. Because…actually now that I've had so many conversations with Kim about where that stuff comes from, and with other people too, in my life, about where that stuff comes from…you know, a lot of the other people that I've met in my life….
Right! Because my sense is…the thing that's coming up for me is this feeling that your younger self holds a piece of this. For us! Not just for you. But because you're involved in Blue Sky the way that you are. There's some sort of magical…whatever…that your younger self is holding and waiting for you to come back and get.
Yeah…that's crazy that you're saying that right now! Because here's the thing-- I have felt that way too. And I was always…obviously there are all these modern, practical, adult things that hold our attention, you know. Things that we have to deal with because we have to make a living, we have to take care of business in our life, social things, whatever. But I always had that sense. But I always thought, well, maybe that's not right, or whatever, because what if it's like, regressive. Like, what if it's like, oh, you're just trying to go back to some place that's comfortable, or that's… maybe it's escapist or regressive or something like that.
But I think investigating that, I'm starting to realize, demands a certain amount of courage. Like, okay, no, you have to back and see what that is. Because clearly…the sensation has been so strong, during some moments of my life, that it's sort of like…and I do, also, find more and more that it's what the world wants. Needs, really. People are so…down. It's a simple word, but people are so hurt by this notion they've internalized that their world has demonstrated to them unequivocally that magic does not exist. And I don't mean magic in actual, you know whatever…I mean like, the unexpected. Mystery. You know, their dreams are dead.
Yeah, actually, that's a better word. Because specific dreams and expectations can almost choke it off a little bit. But it's about mystery. It's about the understanding that every day, incredible possibilities could invade your life. And that mystery can be found…you know, I've been out here living in the desert, saving money to move back to LA. And…even in the simplest environments, and the most seemingly boring, dead places, that magic is still there. Those possibilities-- I guess that's what the creative imagination is for. It's about being able to see those possibilities.
And some people can't. And it's very clear that because of that, their world is much more dull, and gray. That energy…I never thought this would happen, but that energy is seeming more and more necessary. Even just to keep my friends encouraged. You know what I mean?
Yeah, I agree. I mean, I understand worrying about being regressive, but I really don't think so. That's not my sense of this at all. And the thing is, for sure, you have the discernment to know that if you went back and that was true…you'd know.
So whatever else that's…whatever courage you need to muster to do it…do it. I think you should do it.
I think there's something there.
I'm going to take that. It's really good to hear someone else corroborate that. And yeah, I will know. I keep a pretty careful eye on myself, because I live, in some ways, a relatively unconventional life. And I experiment with unconventional things. And so I've always felt that it's very, very important to stay grounded, and keep one eye on-- okay, what does this look like from the outside? What does this look like in terms of my relationship with the world, and with other people? You know, there are plenty of people that can just sort of descend into their creative madness or whatever, and that's cool, but...
Right. Yes, you're right about that. You are that way, and it's so clear that you are that way, that there is, like…I feel like there's no danger that you're going to go off in that direction-- descending into your own…losing touch… totally not.
That's good of you to say, yes. It feels like it's sort of the wardrobe principle again-- what I want to do is to build the connection. The connection is the part that's important, you know?
Yes, yes. We want it. I want it. If you need anything to get yourself to do it…here it is.
(laughs) Okay, I'm down. Okay. All right. Yeah! That's what we're about.
So where were we? I don't remember-- timeline-wise, where were we?
Junior-high, I think. The place where-- I asked you about whether or not there was any place where the imagination and religion came together, and you said not really. And then you described this world you created-- and that was somewhere around junior high. So what else was going on-- was there anything else going on around that time in your life that was…important?
Well, there are a couple things that I could say, like…obviously, at some point in junior high, I started going through puberty. And so, for some reason, that made the divide between the church thing and the imagination thing way sharper. Because I was a teenage boy-- so a lot of what I was thinking about was sex; sensuality and sexuality. And a lot of that started invading my imaginative time. It's a strange concept; it's like you're being invaded by this other force...that eventually becomes part of you, but at first, it seems like it's this weird, alien thing. So for some reason…it's this very classic Apollo-and-Dionysus…like, there was this whole realm of imagination and sensuality, blah blah blah, and then there was this realm of, like, clear white light, the Christian thing, you know, this is the right thing to be, sort of restrictive-- I experienced this very sharply as a teenager. And it's funny, because now, that seems like such a limiting set of categories to look at the world through. You know? There are so many other things, and textures, and ways to look at the world. But at the time, it was that battle. That's what was going on. (laughs)
And inevitably, Christianity started losing. Because it doesn't matter what you believe-- I mean, I guess that's not true. Some people spend their entire life in that place, and become…and stay fundamentalist believers, sometimes that's their life. But given how deeply and sort of questioningly I was thinking about everything, and given that I already had an ambivalent, sort of strained relationship with faith, there was no way for that structure of faith to withstand the assault that is teenage sexuality.
(laughs) It just wasn't going to happen. So I eventually started rebelling a little bit. In high school.
And also, there was also this whole period of time before that-- I always wonder how much this had to do with my development. But I was diagnosed with ADD really early on. And whether that diagnosis is in any way correct or not is totally up in the air. But I know that they put me on a couple different kinds of medication that never seemed to help me. So I was on Ritalin for a good portion of elementary school, and then for part of junior high I was on Dexedrine. Which is crazy stuff; I mean it's basically just amphetamines.
It's just speed. Basically. I mean, if you look at the chemical composition of it…which is crazy to me, that they put kids on this stuff. I mean, I understand that there are circumstances under which…I know there have to be extenuating circumstances where that kind of treatment is necessary. But it didn't help me, it just made me really, really anxious.
Ugh. That's just what you need in adolescence; to be more anxious.
Yes, exactly. I actually tried to figure out-- because basically I was really really socially anxious, no friends, got picked on a lot-- and I would speculate; was that just my teenage experience, or did the medication play a part in that? It's hard to tell. But I know I did not like the way it made me feel.
So anyway, in high school, I got off of it, and I looked at my social life, and my appearance, and the way I dressed, and all this stuff, you know, my face…I started questioning all of those things, basically. And saying, you know, I don't really like what I am. I want to be…I want to push the boundaries and the limits a little more. I want to be more badass. I was a very nerdy, sort of bookish kid, and I wore whatever my mom bought me to wear. So I started-- around the same time, I started getting involved-- almost by fluke, actually-- I started getting involved in theater, and music, and choir. Because there were a certain number of course requirements that had to be filled, and you had some choice about what to do. And I think I procrastinated at some point, or waited until the last minute or whatever, and the only option I had was choir class.
Which petrified me. Because at the time, I could NOT handle performing in front of people. I was socially anxious. I had done some oral monologues in junior high, and every single time I nearly had a coronary. So the idea that I was going to be singing in front of people was just like, mind-boggling to me. I could not grasp this. But I did it. And I realized that I liked it.
And so through the choir-- the school did musicals and stuff, so the theater and choir were really closely connected. So then I got into theater. And theater has this whole sort of culture, at least at my high school. It was where the artsy kids were. It was where the weird, sort of countercultural-y, arts-y kids were. And so I started getting involved in all of that, and I started buying clothing that was sort of goth-y, like black clothes, and spiked collars and stuff like that, and getting into reading more and more-- books that were like-- you know, I was rejecting Christianity at the time, so I read a lot of nihilistic stuff. It was almost like I was descending into this place where I was taking apart everything I'd known.
And I didn't have anything new yet. You know, you talked earlier about, oh, was there ever a place where spirituality and this creative impulse were connected for you-- and at that point, I was just totally opposed; I was into a lot of literature that had to do with atheism, like I read Fight Club, I read Marilyn Manson's autobiography, I read stuff that was very nihilistic and dark.
And this went on for a while, and I did some sort of rambunctious things around campus. Like I would-- I printed out a whole bunch of copies of this essay by Michael Moore about how education is this imprisoning system, you know, your teachers really aren't any smarter than you, blah blah blah, and I posted it up all over campus. (laughs)I got called into the principal's office-- it was a very articulate essay, you know, it was Michael Moore. So it was clear to the principal that I wasn't just trying to start trouble; I was seriously, you know…interested in these things. And he was like, "you know, I appreciate your questioning, but you really need to, you know, ask us before you post that kind of stuff around campus." I said, "no I don't." And, like, that was where I was at as a teenager. (laughs)
This went on for a while-- and eventually I met this guy named Adam. I was making a lot of new friends, and he was one of them. And he was… a different sort of person than anybody else I knew in Ridgecrest. There were the Goth kids, and the counterculture kids, and then there was the whole Christian thing… he was interested in art. Like, really, really interested in art. I THOUGHT I was interested in art. I took a bunch of art classes, so that I would have time draw and stuff, in high school. And one of the first times I saw him, he was in the art class making this painting.
And he had…you know, in high school art classes, if you ascend to this level, where the teacher likes you enough and likes the stuff you do enough, the teacher will basically just sort of let you do whatever you want. He'll assign projects to the rest of the class, and he'll just let you do whatever. And Adam had attained this…level. (laughs)
And so when I saw him, he had found a giant piece of plywood. And he was making a giant painting of the jazz musician Thelonious Monk on this giant piece of plywood…with a palate knife. So there were these really crazy aggressive splotches of paint, and big scrapes and strokes and stuff like that…he was using a palate knife to make a giant painting of Thelonious Monk on a piece of plywood. And this is in high school. And I was just like, "who IS this person?" (laughs) Like, where did this person come from?
And he started talking to me. He'd been raised Mormon. And he, at that point, was rebelling against that whole thing. He has since gone back to it, which is sort of strange for me. But at that time he was rebelling against it. And he read all kinds of poetry, like e.e. cummings, and Neruda. He listened to a lot of music, you know, stuff from the nineties like Tool and Pearl Jam and things like that.
And in a lot of this music, and a lot of the poetry he was interested in, there was this synthesis of art and spirituality. Where spirituality wasn't this contained, restrictive thing that you could only get by going to this one place, like a church, and doing what they told you to do. It was this open, free, exploratory space, where you're using art to connect to this greater…whatever. Something greater than yourself. Art is your opportunity to be a channel for the universe or whatever. And the idea that those two things could coexist with one another was obviously very mind-blowing to me.
Because even though I had…even thought there had been this big conflict, when I was younger, about Christianity…none of the rules made sense to me, but… I went to a really crazy Pentecostal-style church, dancing, clapping, speaking in tongues, things like that. And that…when you go to a place like that, and the pastor or worship band whips everybody up into this sort of insane level of energy-- you connect to something. And it's hard to deny the power of that connection. But it was encased in all of this other stuff. Like, oh, you have to come here to get that. You have to live by these rules in order to get that.
And…I went to my first big, non-Christian rock concert; the band Tool played, in Bakersfield, California. And I went with Adam. And the band, you know, got up onstage, and there was this whole multimedia production, and slammed into the first song. And I felt this incredible sort of thrill in my soul, and I was like, oh: you can get this OTHER places. I had this moment of realization like, oh, this isn't something that belongs to them, to those people. This is something that belongs to everyone.
Was it a liberating moment? It sounds like it.
Very. Very, very liberating. I thought, oh, this is a perspective on the world, and a power, and a vitality, that you can experience through art. You don't have to experience it by going to this building and listening to this man who's not as smart as you talk to you about trees and snakes and whatever.
So after that experience…it's funny; that band, Tool, had a big impact on me in particular. I've sort of moved past them now, on to other things; you know, there're those bands you like when you're younger that don't necessarily make the full translation to when you're older. But Tool had a reading list on their website. And they had all these books, like, these are the books we're interested in, this is the stuff that influenced us. And there were all these spiritual and esoteric symbols that they incorporated into their music and their art, and so I was interested. I was like, I want to know what's going on here.
And so… the reading list contained a bunch of stuff by Carl Jung, a bunch of stuff by Joseph Campbell; things like that. And so then, I started getting into that stuff. And that takes me to college I guess.
I went to community college for a while in Ridgecrest. I had let my grades slip during my latter part of school, because I just wasn’t interested in school. School wasn't what was providing the fire for me. I was really interested in art, and I was really interested in all of these other things. But I went to that community college, and it struck me while I was there that if I didn't really get myself together…you know, I was living in a very small town. And it sort of struck me that if I didn't get my shit together, I was never going to get out of that small town. And at that point, it was very clear to me that I needed art, and culture, and lots of stimulation, so being stuck there felt like death.
So I pulled myself together, got straight A's, and I transferred to Cal State Long Beach. And I was there, I was dating this girl that I'd met, I was going to classes and sort of trying to figure out…like, I knew I was interested in psychology, I was interested in literature, writing…I started out as a creative writing major. But I was searching around for something to connect to. And then I took a couple of classes in Comparative Literature. And one of these classes was called Art and Literature, and it was about the sort of intersection points where visual art throughout history meets literature throughout history.
And so of course we read William Blake, because he's got these really spectacular illuminated manuscripts and books and things like that, that combine visual things and poetry really well. And of course William Blake is all about the combination of sensuality and spirituality, and the mixing of these things, and the fact that there are no barriers there…the creative is the spiritual, you know…so this stuff has been just hammered and hammered and hammered for me.
And then I took this other class with this guy named Peter Markman. And you talk about mentors a lot; I've seen you ask other people about their mentors. And he's totally one of the first people that could fit that category for me. Because Peter used to hang out with Joseph Campbell… Peter and his wife wrote, like, THE book on Mezo-American spirituality, you know, Aztec and Mayan mythology, things like that. And Joe Campbell wrote the introduction to their book. So he was really, really, really deep into that entire way of thinking about the world. Campbell, and Jung, and other people that combine academic thought with spirituality, mysticism, the occult, those types of things. He sort of looked at all literature through that lens.
And at the time, that was really…I thought he had everything figured out. I took a class with him, and I wound up taking a whole bunch of classes from him, way beyond what my course requirements were. I just wanted to be in a room with this guy and just suck up all this knowledge, right? And when you start getting involved in that variety of thought, for whatever reason, when you start getting involved in Jung and Campbell and those kinds of things-- especially in a big transitional period of your life, like college-- all of those stories and tales and narratives felt like…every single one of them impacted on me emotionally in this really deep way, that seemed almost uncanny.
I kept encountering coincidences and synchronicities, more and more and more, and everything seemed like it was relating to my life to a degree that was kind of creepy. Like, we were reading this one story, this German Romantic story called “The Golden Flowerpot,” which was about this student who's trying to choose between this realm of inspiration represented by this snake-princess named Serpentina and the sort of more normal life where he marries this nice girl that's totally in love with him, blah blah. And at the time, while we were reading this, I was conflicted about the relationship I was in because it had grown sort of stale, and I wanted to go out and explore more. You see what I'm saying?
So things like that just kept happening; parallels just kept popping up. And that stuff-- I think it taught me a whole lot about how important stories are to human beings, and how stories can change lives. And that's really what I think I've taken with me from that. That, and also this sort of spiritual connection you can develop, through art, to this power that's greater than you. That idea continued to develop through that, too. But near the end of my time with him, a lot of the stories that he was involved in, a lot of those sets of ideas, started to feel restrictive, and I wanted to move beyond them.
Like, he had very traditional ideas about…you know, the earth is good, technology is bad, marketing is bad, that kind of thing. And at that point, I was actually becoming really interested in the idea of the internet as a mystical experience. Or the idea of technology as… I was sort of poking at the edges of that system of ideas.
Which is what I do, I guess. Whenever someone introduces…I just realized that's sort of a pattern with me. Whenever anyone introduces a system of ideas to me, especially now…my immediate reaction is never to be like, "oh good, we'll just go with that system of ideas." My immediate reaction is, "okay, how can be move one step beyond this? Innovate on it?" Always. Every time.
Like, okay, that's already a system of ideas, so it's boring now. So what can we do that takes it one step further.
Yeah! Well, that's part of your gift, though. That's what you're bringing.
I appreciate that.
Yeah, yeah, it just is. You can look at it any number of ways, but...
Yeah. That's innovation; that's creativity. And that's been incredibly encouraging, too, to have conversations with Kim and with other people about that, and to realize: that's a good impulse to follow. Like, yes. Do ask those questions; do innovate on these systems. You know? People don't have everything figured out.
Yes! It's what creates new things. It's what creates something new in the world.
Yeah. It's difficult. I think it takes everyone some courage to get to the point where they believe, oh, my ideas are valid. Nobody has everything...
Well, definitely. For whatever reason all of us, to some extent I think, end up…when we touch on one of those things that are core to who we are, and what we're bringing, for some reason, it gets flipped into…you think that it's like a deficit somehow. Like it's negative, or something to be embarrassed about because it’s so fundamental to who you are.
I think it's even more sort of that we're…afraid of it a little bit. Like, what's going to happen if we open that door? How are we going to change? And it may just be fear of change, but yeah. There's something…and you've just got to grit your teeth and do it anyway. (laughs)
It's a hard thing to do by yourself, though.
Yeah, it is.
Alone in a vacuum. To have a context in which that's what happens-- it makes all the difference in being able to do it, I think.
Yeah. To have it valued-- I mean, I think that's what we're doing, obviously, with Blue Sky. Kim talks about holding people's dreams-- basically, just giving them the space that validates that. You know. You're fine. Do it. You're okay.
So yeah. It was rough, but he and I had a falling out. And in classic form, we had this falling out during a class he was teaching that I was taking on Tragedy. That's how our entire relationship was. Everything fit together way too well.
But I moved on from that. And then probably, the next thing that I got engaged in was… you know, one of the things that produced conflict between me and him is that I started taking classes in communications…Comparative Literature I got really deep into, but it was very concerned with older things. It's a literature program. And so I started taking classes in communications-- because communications is very concerned with taking the same critical ideas, but applying them to modern media, and really new things. So I wound up double-majoring in those, because I felt like those two things together balanced me the way I wanted to be balanced.
I had some doubts about that later on-- I'll get into that; I have all kinds of ideas about how education could be done better, after going through the educational system. But anyway, I was taking these communications classes, and of course they all had to do with modern media, and so Peter didn't like that at all.
But through that, eventually, I picked up this internship at a PR company, like a little boutique public relations firm in Long Beach. Because of communications, and because of my interest in art and literature, that combination of things, I started to get really interested in how mass culture happens; how it's produced. Where mass culture comes from. Where pop culture comes from. Pop stars, musicians, public figures, are new mythologies. And I was really interested because of Peter, and myth, and that kind of thing. And so I was basically like, I want to be in the myth factory. I want to be in the place that's making these stories; these famous people or these new narratives that the culture lives out, I want to know where they come from.
And that led me to get this PR internship-- with this wonderful, wonderful woman who I think you guys will meet, eventually, named Candice Han. Who is…she's really really into positivity and spirituality, and she works in public relations, and of course, it helps to be sort of a hyper-optimist in public relations, because your job is basically to get excited about things all the time.
One of the first conversations I had with Kim, where we were talking about where the energy for Blue Sky, or this event, or any of the things that we're doing has to come from, one of the things that Kim said to me was, "oh, it has to come from a place of love. You have to do business out of love." And I was just like, you have to meet Candice. (laughs) That was my immediate reaction. You have to meet my old boss. Because that's totally something she would say.
She's also very savvy; she's been in LA a long time and she's very…hip, sort of. Very dedicatedly hip. But she also believes in doing business from that place. So I got in with her. She and I are still friends; we go on hikes together when I'm in LA; she's a wonderful person. And I think the biggest thing I got…the internship eventually turned into a job. We got along well, and we worked on all kinds of crazy shit together. We threw big A-list parties for Comi Con; we handled sort of big-name music acts, and promoting different things, art shows, things like that.
Wow! That's fun stuff.
Yeah. It was really fun, and it was exactly what I wanted. I was right at the center of this weird sort of fame-factory. And one of the biggest things that I got out of that experience, aside from all these really incredible experiences and meeting all these amazing people and getting all these connections, is that…there's NO barrier between you and those people, at all. Because some of the first experiences I ever had on the job were…it was like…"Oh, you know, you're on the phone, Devin. This client needs media coverage, because their album is coming out. So you're going to call up Rolling Stone, and you're going to…"
And I was like "I'm going to what?" (laughs) like, "excuse me, you're telling me I'm going to call Rolling Stone, or email the editor of Wired, or whatever…" …you can just call these people. And it wasn't even necessarily like we knew them already and we had connections with them. Sometimes these were new media outlets. And so it was like, "you're going to track down this person's phone number, however you can, get their email address, however you can, and you're going to email them. And you're going to be like, hey, I have this thing you might be interested in." And I was like, "you can DO that?" And she would say, yes, Devin, not only can you do that, but that's how the world works. You just do things, and reach out to people. There's no barrier.
And that was transformative for me. I mean, I know a lot of other people that have gone through a similar sort of transformation. It takes a while for that realization to sink in-- you know, on a visceral level, where you're totally comfortable with it. But understanding that those people are not different from you… I am "those people." Like, I'm going to do great things; I'm going to contribute to the culture too. And there's nothing, on a theoretical level…you know, there's no magic pill or spark or whatever that Lady Gaga has that I don't have. They're just people that work their butts off, and you can call them on the phone. You know?
That was transformative. Because I feel like, in a way…that sort of self-started mentality, that's where a lot of culture does come from. That's what the spark is. An understanding that, you know, I'm worthy. I can do this.
So I worked with her for a while, and finished school. I made a whole lot of friends in college. Eventually Jessica and I, the girl that I was with, broke up. That was difficult, of course, but it freed me up to do a whole lot of exploring. So I fell in with this crowd of people from the comparative literature department. And they all were really artsy, bohemian, they all experimented with hallucinogenic drugs… so I started experimenting with those, and that was interesting, and opened up a lot of interesting things, as it tends to. And that connected with a lot of the things I'd learned from Peter, and a lot of the things that I was learning about the broader culture. So there was just a whole bunch of art and culture happening.
I started a band with my friend Omar, and we did a whole bunch of experimental, interesting stuff.
What did you do in the band? Did you sing, or what did you do?
Oh, well I sang, I played guitar, I played keyboards sometimes. There were just two of us, and we did this…this is actually a good example of the kind of thing that I'm interested in, by way of taking the imaginative world that I created when I was younger, and making a whole thing…we were a blues band, but it was a noisy, Velvet Underground-like, noisy, aggressive, experimental blues, like Captain Beefheart or whatever. And it was mixed with a theatrical engagement with the occult. We wanted to create the impression that we were sort of this almost Charles-Manson-y cult that, like, made this music.
So a whole bunch of our live performances, we'd incorporate these sort of rituals into the live performances. And a lot of it was like Blues and Gospel. We'd try and get the crowd really riled up. And I would rant at them, "preach" at them between songs. We made up all of these mystical ideas and ideologies and systems, and we would put them out through our music and performance and things like that.
That sounds…wow. Yeah.
It was a combination of a lot of the things I was interested in. Because I think part of it was, it was sort of a media experiment. Really, it was designed to try and create controversy. Like, one of the things we did was we printed up these pamphlets-- we wanted to be ambiguous as to whether or not this occult order actually existed-- the band was called The Mother Goat Society. And we wanted it to be ambiguous as to whether or not there really was an occult order called The Mother Goat Society, and we also wanted to be ambiguous as to whether or not we were associated with that order. (laughs) So we printed up these pamphlets, and we made them look like they were put out by a church that was like, warning against the evils and dangers of this new occult order, or whatever. And we left them places...
Oh my god!
…things like that. So, like, media strategy meets music meets mysticism, and that kind of stuff.
That's so fascinating! That's so interesting. So what happened? When you did all of that?
We had a really good time doing it, obviously. And we did actually engage in whipping ourselves up into this sort of spiritual frenzy, and connecting with this thing, whatever it was. Because that's what made it real for the audience. So at the same time it was a performance and it was also very genuine. But anyway, we played some gigs around LA. I started dating this artist named Eliza and she had a gallery space on Sunset. And we played an opening there, we played some other artsy things.
It was more like an underground artsy thing than it was a mainstream music project, in the end. But it was fun, and it was really educational. And it was an experiment in, okay, this is the kind of thing I'd be interested in doing. I don't want to create things that just have one facet. I want to create multifaceted, immersive experiences for people. It became clear to me that that's what I was really interested in.
Which goes along with that idea of magic intruding into everyday life; building that bridge. Like, I want people to really feel like they're IN it, and like something crazy is actually happening. It's not enough for me to put somebody in a situation where, like, oh, I'm just in a theater, and I'm sort of watching this thing. Or I'm just looking at this piece of art, and it's very clear where this piece of art fits into my world. I'm way more interesting in people having these totally immersive, magical experiences…I want there to be parts of the experiences that they can't explain, you know? I want there to be mystery there. And that was in that project.
Yes, wow. That's amazing. Keep going.
Well, also-- like I said, I started dating this artist named Eliza Frye. She's a brilliant graphic artist, who…she writes comic books, and she also does fine art. And she's influenced a lot by Japanese calligraphy and stuff. We really connected at Comic Con, when I was working for Candice in PR and throwing that party. And we had a year-long relationship, and… we had a sort of wonderful, settled relationship, actually. I look back on it really fondly now that I have more context for it. I didn't feel like, this…super crazy spark of infatuation with her.
And I didn't have a whole ton of relationship experience…well, actually, I had a really good amount. But I was sort of frustrated that that spark wasn't there. Because she's this genius artist, and this really amazing person, we had really good rapport, we had really great sex…everything about the relationship was wonderful-- except the spark was missing. But I think I learned more from her than from just about anybody else in my life what it means, on a practical level, to try and make a living as an artist. Because she supported herself with her work.
And that's not easy to do. (laughs) I had all kinds of ideas about being an artist, but I had these experiences where…like, she went to Cal Arts for part of her education, and so she had access to the lab up there. And one time, basically, she needed rent money. And she'd done this really graphic-y, Lichtenstein-y, really cool portrait of Lady Gaga, because she was interested in her work too. And we were, like, making screen prints, like an edition of a hundred screen prints of this thing up at Cal Arts in the middle of the night, so she could sell them and make rent.
So I'm physically scraping the ink across these screens, and printing these things with her…we just went up there. She didn't even go to the school anymore, we just went into the lab in the middle of the night and did an edition of a hundred of these things so she could sell them. And I was just like, okay, this is what being an artist is.
And she also had a really…she has a whole look that she dresses, she has a whole physical thing…she has a whole brand, like personal brand. She is one of the most effective walking personal brands I've ever seen. Her whole living space, her whole thing is like one unified aesthetic exercise. And that really fueled my interests in that mode of expression. The branding, and that kind of stuff.
So after that…that relationship ended, and it was kind of a rough breakup. We kept seeing each other on and off, because we were so compatible. And that's always rough.
I was sort of floundering after that ended. I was still in school, and I was doing a lot of really cool academic stuff. Like I was going to academic conferences, and giving papers, and things like that, because I was finally just applying my imagination to my academic work, and pushing boundaries, and innovating. And people liked that. So I went to a conference in New Orleans and gave a talk about Lady Gaga; I gave another talk at Harvard on this German film I really liked. I was sort just finishing school up, working on things I was interested in, and working on cool academic stuff.
And then I met this girl, let’s call her C, at this show my friend Jenny played at this venue in LA called the Cozy Castle. And we hit it off-- we had good conversations about music and art. And we exchanged phone numbers, and emails-- she was moving to Seattle the next day, like right afterwards.
So we started writing to each other, and things got pretty intense and emotional pretty fast. And long story short-- and I don't know how much of this story you want me to tell-- but we decided to do this whole performance-art-marriage, basically, that you already know about. And I don't know…do you want me to go into that? Do you want me to tell that story?
Well, yeah, actually. Because there's more, now, to the story, right? Since the last time.
Yeah, there is.
Yeah, do it. Go for it.
Well, this is one of the most transformative experiences of my life to this point.
So we were writing to each other. And I was telling her about Eliza-- we were totally open; dumped a whole bunch of things about art and relationships, things we shared creatively. She's a writer, and a performance artist and stuff like that. And I told her what had happened with Eliza-- I said, you know, Eliza was really amazing, but I wasn't in love with her, so I sort of distrust the whole concept of love now. I feel like it's just this arbitrary, biological, capricious thing; people just get hurt. And I don't really understand why the spark is there with some people, and why it's not with others. It just seems really awful.
And of course, it was ironic, because at the time I was fighting powerful feelings for C, and I couldn't really explain why. And finally she wrote me this email, and she said…she included a link in this email to this Wikipedia article about the performance artist, Marina Abramovic, and her partner Ulay. They worked together for fifteen years, and they did all these crazy, insane things. They did this piece called The Death Self, where they connected one another's airways together with a tube and they breathed each others' air until they passed out. They did all kinds of stuff like that. Like, they ended their relationship, their fifteen year relationship-- they started walking from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China. (laughs) And they met in the middle and they said goodbye. That's how the ended their relationship.
So she sends me this article about these people. And she spaces down two lines below it, and she says "does this look like love to you?" And then below that, spaced down, she said, "if so, do you think that we could be like that?" And then two lines below that, she wrote, "if so, this is me saying that I think that we could be like that. If you don't think so, disregard this message." And at the bottom, she said "respond promptly."
(laugh) …So I did. I said yes. I actually filled the email field for like five feet down with the word yes, repeated over and over again. And we decided at that point…we were both really, really excited, and it was very clear to her that what she'd sent in that email had been a proposal. I think the email was even titled, "a proposal of sorts." And so we decided to…get married. In other words, we decided to do this performance art project that would be a relationship, and use all the symbols of marriage and stuff, but we would also be examining and taking apart the idea of marriage at the same time, or at least we were going to try to.
So we started planning this…we were going to have some sort of ritual, and then we would take off on our honeymoon. And we were going to wear our wedding clothes the entire time, on the honeymoon. It was going to be a two-week road trip to Long Beach, where I was, all the way to Seattle, where she was living. And we started planning this.
And then, a couple days into the planning, she sent me this picture of this little design that she'd drawn on her finger. I can show you a picture of it sometime. But it was like a band, made out of the letters of my name, and then a sigil, shaped like a diamond, made out of the letters of my name, on the ring finger of her left hand, like a wedding ring.
And I thought it was cute, and I thought it was just drawn on in pen. So I was showing my friend Autumn, who was staying over at the time, "oh look, this is cute." And she was like, "oh yeah, it's cute that she drew that" and she went to bed. But there was a video attachment to this email that I had missed, and so I opened the video attachment. And the video attachment was a video of her getting this symbol tattooed on her finger.
So…(laughs)…so she tattooed my name on the ring finger of her left hand without asking me first.
Yeah. So I had, like, a mini-crisis, at that moment. I was like, clearly this has gotten too crazy. So any minute now, I'm going to call her, and we're going to have a frank conversation about boundaries, and…this is a little intense. So I was sort waiting for that feeling to hit me, so that I would pick the phone and call. Like, I was waiting to freak out, right? And I waited, and I waited… and it never happened. I never freaked out.
So I called this sort of internal conference with myself, and I was like…what's going on? (laughs) And the voices in my head, or whatever… were like, oh, it's fine, we like the ring. What do you mean, we like the ring? …So I had to…make peace with the fact that…this person had just tattooed my name on their finger, and I was OKAY with that. At first I had to make peace with the fact that she did it, and then I had to make peace with the fact that I LIKED the fact that she did. Which is like…okay, clearly my entire life is different now. Like, I don't know what's happening, but…clearly, everything has changed somehow.
So we continued planning. She was putting together the initial ritual, and that was going to be a surprise to me. So…my job was to get my tux, and show up in my tux at this undisclosed location in the Long Beach area-- it eventually turned out to be a Motel 6. So I showed up at this shitty Motel 6 in this nondescript part of Stockton, or wherever it was. At 3:45 in the afternoon, on March 25th. I remember. My anniversary, basically. (laughs)
So I show up at this motel in this tux. Tailored tux, looks great. Like, we really put effort into this. And her friend Nicki met me in the lobby, and gave me a key to the room, and I went up to the room and opened the door.
I don't know, actually, if I detailed this for you…we didn't communicate by phone at all this entire time. We didn't communicate by Skype or anything. We just wrote. We only wrote. So I met her basically once, for an hour, at a concert with a bunch of other people there. And then we wrote to each other….
Wow. And you hadn't heard her voice, or seen her face, at all, since then? Wow.
No. Not since then. I mean, I'd seen pictures of her on Facebook and stuff, obviously, but I hadn't heard her voice or seen her face since then. That's probably important to include. (laughs)
…And that was definitely partially a purposeful decision. Because this was an art project, as well as a relationship, so we wanted to document the entire process. We wanted to have all our letters.
So I hadn't heard her voice or seen her face since a few months before, that one time.
So I open the door to this hotel room, and she is…we'd had a lot of conversations about, like, S&M, things like that. We were both interested in that kind of thing. So I open the door of this hotel room. And she is tied to the bed on her back, spread-eagled, in nuptial lingerie, with a ball-gag in her mouth, noise-canceling headphones on her ears, and a blindfold on, and there's a leather dog-mask on over all of that, with a digital voice recorder stuck in its mouth. All the light bulbs in the hotel room had been replaced with red light bulbs...
Oh my god! Oh my god.
…there was a bookshelf, with a bunch of books of poetry and stuff that she had talked about, sitting in the corner. There was champagne, and some fruit. And then on the table next to the television, because all Motel 6 rooms are laid out exactly the same…(laughs)…was basically the largest array of S&M implements that I've ever seen in one place at one time, outside of a store.
Oh my god!
…Yeah. So clearly my role, in this environment, is to go take the digital recorder out of her mouth of her leather dog mask, and press play. That's obviously what needs to happen here. So I did that. And it's so funny, because…she's totally sensorily deprived. She doesn't even necessarily know that I'm in the room. She can't hear anything, she can't see anything…so pick up the recorder, and I push the button, and her voice issues out of this recorder, this voice I haven't heard in forever, while she's lying there on the bed in front of me.
And her voice says, "after the first three hours, you may remove either the ball gag, or the noise-canceling headphones." Something like an hour and a half after that, you may remove whichever you did not remove the first time. A couple hours after that, you may untie me, but you have to leave me blindfolded. So basically the way she set it up was, for the first half of the evening, I was to go to town on her, and then I was supposed to put on the blindfold, and then she was going to go to town on me for the next half of the evening-- but we weren't to actually look each other in the eyes until the next morning, any of this time, because one or the other of us…you know, she put my blindfold on before she took hers off, so…one or the other of us was blindfolded this whole time.
And so that all happened. There was this very cute period in the middle where we were trying to feed each other champagne and fruit while we were both blindfolded, which was interesting.
But…it's so interesting….she set up… this is one aside, and it's something we talk a lot about in artistic circles, when we're discussing the project, and we're giving talks about it and stuff-- that evening is this really weird vortex of subjectivity. Because she set up a really, really nice, really expensive digital video camera to record all of this. Right? In the room. But her friend Nicki forgot to turn it on.
Oh my god!
So first of all, there's no video record of this evening ever happening. And second of all, neither of us have any perspective that we can corroborate on, because one or the other of us was blindfolded or sensorily deprived in some way the entire time.
Right? It's like this vortex. There's no single immutable perspective on what happened that evening. It doesn't exist.
Yeah. Well, and that's so…it says something about…it's so symbolic of something! (laughs)
Yeah, I know! So many things. That's one of the things we were really excited about, is that…the relationship only lasted like a year. It didn't last forever. But it's pretty good art. (laughs) At least, we think so. Because it generates endless discussion, and endless meanings, and…I feel like that's what makes art good. That's sort of my perspective on art. Art is good in my mind, not when there's like, one, sort of rote, restrictive message that you get out of it, but when you do something, perform some act or create some word or whatever, for people, that's rife with meaning. That a million different meanings can come out of it, forever and ever. Endlessly, you could come back to this, and you could talk about…you know. So I feel like it was really a successful project in that way.
But anyway…so…she took my blindfold off the next morning, and I looked her in the eyes for the first time. And we decided to go get breakfast at this nice little French breakfast place in Seal Beach, on Main Street. And…since I'd cut her lingerie off with scissors, she put on some shorts and a t-shirt, and I was still in my tux. So we drive over to Main Street, and I park. She's taking her car, because we had two cars there.
And I'm waiting outside of this restaurant in my tuxedo, on a Sunday afternoon, feeling vaguely ridiculous, and it's taking her a really long time…it takes a long time to park on Main Street, but she was taking an especially long time. And so I started texting her on my phone.
And I hear this voice from behind me, and she says, "are you texting me?" And I turn around. And in the car, she had done her makeup, put her hair up, and put her wedding dress on. So she's walking down the middle of this shop-laden thoroughfare on the beach in Seal Beach, mid-day on a Sunday, so there are tons of people on the street; everybody's staring at her in her wedding dress, you know.
And then we went to this cafe, and we had breakfast. And we took off on our honeymoon. We went to Death Valley, we stayed there. We stayed in Humboldt in Northern California, with all the redwood trees. And everywhere we went, people took pictures of us, and yelled congratulations, and…
Oh my god.
Yeah. It was crazy. We felt like we were on drugs the whole time. We felt…what we discovered, basically, by doing this, is that…we sort of wanted to poke at marriage, and take those symbols apart, you know? That was one of our goals. But we also discovered that those symbols are really powerful. Like basically, if you get together with somebody, because of the way the whole culture treats you…if you get together with somebody, and you wear those clothes, and do those things, and tell people, oh, we're getting married…what happens is, even if you have a really unconventional situation like the one we had…what happens is, basically you just wind up married. That's how culturally powerful the symbols are.
That was one of the things that contributed to these incredible, crazy emotional highs. We were constantly having peak experiences during this trip. Because things kept happening to us. Like, we got lost in the woods in Humboldt; we're trying to find our way to this beach. And this highway patrol officer found us, and he led us out…he was like, "you want to follow me out? You guys are clearly lost." …because we're in our wedding clothes the whole time. And so he led us along this cliff, and then he stopped his police car, and got out, and he was like, "can I take your picture?" So we have this beautiful set of photographs, taken by one of the members of the California Highway Patrol. (laughs) He gets this really nice camera, that he apparently had in his cop car… he was like, "you can't tell anybody, I'm not allowed to do this."
We walked into a diner for breakfast, up in Eureka, and we got a standing ovation. Everyone in this diner stood up and started clapping. Because…when you put on those clothes…you become a story that everybody already knows. You become that thing that everybody wants to be. You become a symbol of their hopes and dreams. Every story they've ever heard, every romantic comedy they've ever watched, you know. They don't know anything about your individual relationship. You become the container for all of that.
Yeah. So that was really powerful. And it bonded us together in a powerful way, but it also made us really volatile. Because there were all these pressures and expectations on the relationship because of that. And we also had a lot of…in a lot of really simple, day-to-day ways…you know, in the sort of realm of grand ideas, in art and things like that, we got along really well. But in a lot of simple day-to-day things, and preferences, we weren't really totally compatible. And because all the pressure the idea of marriage put on our relationship, every little incompatibility freaked us out, and we would have big fights over all of them.
We lasted about a year. Which, to be perfectly honest…with a crazy situation like that…you know, that makes some people sad when they hear it, but I didn't expect it to last a year. (laughs) You know? Like, we went into it, in a way, with this very split perspective. One part of us was like, okay, we're artists, and we're doing an experiment, and we understand, by the nature of experiments, in general, this experiment might fail. So we knew that we were doing something risky, right?
And then there was this other part of us, that was like, we're getting married. We're going to be together for the rest of our lives. That part of us believed that, unequivocally.
Did you actually get legally married, for real?
No, we didn't get married legally. We talked about it, and for a couple reasons, we decided not to. One, we don't really feel comfortable legally married until everyone can. And two…we thought it might be interesting to separate…I mean, obviously, we also didn't want to entangle ourselves financially and legally; that would be a big risk. Of course, we could always get it nullified, or whatever.
Some of the most interesting conversations we've had about the project have come from that question. Like, "oh, did you guys get legally married?" Because what we get from a lot of people is, "oh, you didn't get legally married…so you weren't REALLY married." Right? So I think it's interesting. Because it implies that the most important part of marriage is a contract with the state, when people say that. Which is sort of a disturbing idea.
When you put it that way, most people wouldn't agree with it…you know, the debate about gay marriage, for example. When people say "oh, you can just get a civil union, you can get a contract…" well, no. That's separate but equal. That's not enough. That's discriminatory, because what's important is this institution; this cultural myth that people want to participate in called "marriage".
So there's this really interesting…it's like, "well, you weren't really married." Oh, does being "really" married only involve, you know, the ratification of your relationship by the government of the United States of America? Is that the most important…so that's always an interesting conversation to have with people. But no, we didn't get legally married.
We thought, actually, that that would lessen the pressure a little bit, in terms of it "feeling" like a marriage. We thought, oh, well, you know, maybe it won't feel that way because we're not legally married. But it didn't. (laughs) It didn't at all. The experience was really powerful.
Of course, I've never been legally married. So I can't-- I think maybe that's another one of those…you know, like I said, we didn't get along on a lot of the practical things. So one way people could look at it is, we did all the things necessary for a marriage in sort of the higher realm of romance. You know, these are the romantic dreams that people have, and this is what people want. But on the practical level, we didn't work out. Living together, having a legally binding marriage recognized by the state…you know.
I think a lot of people want to believe that those romantic stories, those sort of high-feeling…those are the things that should really govern who you're in love with and who you're not. But it's just more complicated than that. And of course, this is an object lesson in all of that.
Yeah. And I would say-- this is a different conversation; I don't actually want to have this conversation during your interview, but we should have it some other time-- the reason I asked if you got legally married was because something comes up for me around my experience of getting divorced… there was something big that I learned about what it marriage is…it felt like such a betrayal. Not in terms of the relationship, even, but what it MEANT to be legally married-- I didn't understand that until I got divorced.
Like, on the surface I knew what it meant. But on a much deeper level…and I was so…disillusioned isn't the right word, betrayed isn't the right word…it was so deep...
Did it feel, like, deeply unromantic, or de-romanticizing or something like that?
Yes. That's putting it mildly.
I don't know, there was something about it that almost negated the…romantic nature of getting married in the first place. I mean, honestly…the EXPERIENCE of getting a divorce just completely blew my mind.
It's interesting, because-- obviously, I can't know exactly what you mean, because I've never been legally married, or legally divorced. But one of the things I noticed, when C and I were talking-- like, I felt like I learned the things you're saying in sort of a third-hand way or something. Because a lot of the conversations that C and I had with people about the project…basically…we weren't anticipating some of the strongest disturbed or negative…because the relationship didn't work out, and we were sort of poking at, like, okay is this really a "real" marriage…and there's this romantic thing at the beginning, and it's destroyed by all these practical, day-to-day things…so that's the package.
A lot of young people-- younger people that were around our age, or younger, or maybe a little bit older-- they had really way more negative, or more disturbed reactions, to the project. And they were sort of demanding to know, "well were you REALLY married? Was this an art project OR a relationship?" Of course, it was both. But they would really want to separate those things out and divide them up.
And we would talk to older people-- who had either been married or divorced, or had a bunch of these experiences; people my parents' age or whoever-- and THEIR reaction to the project was basically like "yeah, that's how it goes." Like, obviously we did a whole bunch of unconventional things, obviously we didn't get legally married, and that makes it very, very different. But when we told them "yeah, our relationship…we started with these grand romantic ideals but our relationship broke down because we couldn't agree on things like where the forks go," or whatever…
Like, we told older people with more experience, and they were just like, "yeah, that's basically how it works."
Yeah! And I guess I would agree. As one of those older people-- the fact that you didn't get legally married doesn't make it any less married, in my mind. Because what my idea of being married was about… got shattered when I got divorced. You know what I mean?
…So what you did was basically what I did. Even though I had the legal contract… I don't know…anyway…
…It's like…experiencing JUST the legal contract was so disconnected in your mind from the experience of getting married, that...
Yeah, yeah yeah. That's pretty crazy. And it opens up all kinds of interesting conversations. I'm glad that it inspired so much conversation, because that, of course, is what the project is all about.
But anyway…so my relationship with C, that was a huge crazy thing. And also, during that period of time, actually, sort of coinciding with my relationship with C, I started working…I got a tip, through Candice…I was really looking hard for work. Because I was involved in doing this crazy creative stuff, but I was also going to graduate from school very soon. And I'd gotten to where academia felt really restrictive to me. And, you know…academics and professors, to me, at that point, felt like they weren't doing real things, and making real things.
I could have easily…all my professors wanted me to go to grad school, in the humanities or whatever. And I easily could have. I was well-liked by that community. But I felt like they were just sort of publishing journal articles, writing, talking, and it was all going into these academic journals that would never be read by anybody…it had nothing to do with the real world, it felt like. And I wanted to make real things that would affect real people.
And so I got this job tip…I applied for jobs for a while, after graduating-- I lived in LA for a little bit, and did some projects with friends. And then I moved back to Ridgecrest, which was a little depressing for me. And I was applying for jobs, and that wasn't going that well. It never does, for people of my generation these days. But I eventually got this tip through Candice, and I got a job working at this company called We First, in Santa Monica, run by this guy named Simon Mainwaring. And he's sort of a big branding guy; he used to work at this big advertising firm, Ogilvy and Mather.
He handled corporate accounts for, like, Nike and Motorola and stuff like that. So he was this huge advertising creative director. And then he went solo, and he put together this company that had to do with sustainable branding, basically. Understanding that corporations could have positive relationships with their consumers, and brand themselves that way, so they can simultaneously be successful and build a better world. That was the idea.
So, you know, sustainable branding, green branding, that kind of thing. And he put a book out, and he started giving talks, you know, did a TEDx talk; his book was a New York Times bestseller. And so he started putting together this consultancy to do this. And I come on as someone to help run social media-- because social branding is a big part of what he did. He has a lot of ideas about how social media helps consumers and companies collaborate, and provides a better experience for both, blah blah blah; they can communicated directly.
So I started working for him and doing social media. And I was living in Seal Beach, which is like…let me try to paint a picture of this for you…basically, with as bad as rush hour is in Los Angeles, I was spending two hours, each way, on the freeway every day to get to work. So I get up in the morning at like six o'clock. Sometimes I would swim laps in this freezing cold pool in the apartment complex I was living at.
And it's funny-- it was kind of an intense period of my life. Even as I was working at this place, a lot of crazy things were happening in my relationship with C. This is during the period where it started to break down a little bit. But at the time, I was living with C's aunt, because she provided me a really cheap room in Seal Beach, which is why I was living there. So I was living at this place-- and C's aunt was really nice and wonderful. She's an amazing person. But I was getting up at like 6am, swimming laps in this pool, driving to work, working all day, and then driving straight home and going to bed and getting up and doing it all over again.
And there were a lot of really inspiring ideas floating around the workplace there, and I learned a lot. But it eventually became clear that it was an environment that I really wasn't compatible with. Because some of the ideas were inspiring, but a lot of it had to do with, really…there was a side to it that I had a real problem with. And it had to do with this whole…I don't know if you've encountered this, but it's a whole sort of sleazy…internet marketing thing. Where you capture leads, so you can sell them online content, and get them to come to really expensive business seminars, you know what I mean?
That whole thing. It was that. Really, a lot of it was that. And that really disappointed me, because I really wanted to believe… I think Simon is doing a lot of things that are really creative and worthwhile. But I really wanted to believe that there was more to the core of his business than that. And he was following a lot of models of people that were already doing that, a lot of models that I thought were really, like…sleazy, sort of used-car-salesman-y, and problematic.
And to top that off-- I got there, and they sort of expected me to know…it was a very strange position, that I feel like a lot of people in my generation find themselves in. Because I got there, and they sort of expected me to just jump on things, and be able to do everything really well. Like, they had a bunch of mass email software that they wanted me to either already know how to use, or to learn really fast and be able to operate perfectly. There was no learning curve; no mistakes were tolerated, because they were in this promotional push for this event already, when I got on board, which is why they needed my help.
So they pitched it, initially, as this sort of entry-level position, a really great opportunity or whatever. But then I came on board and they expected me to do these insane amounts of work that I didn't really have enough experience for, at a breakneck speed, and I was commuting two hours each way. And so I just felt like it was sucking the life out of me.
It was really rough. I had a really problematic relationship with the VP of business development. Simon and I got along pretty well, but she and I really did not have compatible ways of communicating. We butted heads all the time. She was really…everything had to be perfect, and she would get really frustrated if I would ask her questions. You know? And so that creates a really negative work environment. Like I would come to her, and I would be like, I want to do this properly, so you need to tell me…and she wants everything done perfectly, but she didn't want to have to think about it. She was very very good at managing spreadsheets, but not particularly good at managing people, I guess.
Oh, god. That's kind of crazymaking, if you're not allowed to ask any questions…you know?
Yeah. It was pretty crazymaking. She's…I don't want to say too many negative things about her, but she's a really…yeah. I don't think she's really an emotionally okay person. She was very angry a lot of the time, it felt like.
And so they eventually said, okay, this isn't working super well, but can we keep you on anyway for a while until we find someone else, because we really need your help in the push to this event. So it was like…it created this situation where it really wasn't a compatible work environment for me, it was clear that they needed me there just to be another hand on the deck. So they wouldn't fire me. And I was getting money out of it, and there were a lot of things that I was learning. Like, it was a very educational experience, in both good and bad ways.
So I didn't want to quit. But they kept devaluing my involvement. They were trying to pay me less…like, oh, can we pay you this much instead? When I was still breaking my back working for them.
At the end of the day I did get paid. But it just felt…like, there was this one circumstance where…because I got part of December off for Christmas, I guess that was the ostensible reason, and because I wasn't this super crazy I-know-everything dynamo rock-star employee that they wanted me to be…god, the use of the word rockstar in the fucking culture industry…"be a rockstar! Gotta be a rockstar employee!" …anyway, they had already bargained down how much they were going to pay me.
And I was texting with the VP near the event that we were putting on, the big conference, and…I was talking about, oh, I really do want to help out with the event, and I want to be involved, and I want to be there. I wasn't going to be working there at that point, but I wanted to come see it, and volunteer, since we'd all put so much work into this. And I was trying to figure out "how can I help?" Like, I do want to make this work for you guys, even though….we're not a good fit right now, in terms of employee and employer, but I want to help make this work for you.
I had worked for them for four or five months. And she sort of jokingly implied…"well…maybe you could just regard all this time you've put in as an internship! Because we're really strapped for cash right now… maybe we could just not pay you for these months of labor that you've put in." And I was just like, wow. You know? At that moment it became clear to me that…this was a weird situation.
And the seminar they were doing, this social branding seminar that all these businessheads from the LA area were coming to…it was on the roof of the Marina Del Rey Marriott; it was like two thousand dollars a seat, you know. So I disentangled myself from that situation.
And I thought, my god…is that what it's like? Is that what working, and making these experiences for people…in branding or whatever…is that what it's going to be like? That's horrifying. Now I have to reevaluate my life, because it makes me physically ill. Like, some of the things they did just made me physically ill.
Right-- no can do.
Yeah. So I went back to Ridgecrest…I was sort of disillusioned a little bit. But in a weird way, that disillusionment helped with going back to Ridgecrest and living there for a while, and applying for more jobs and stuff. Because I realized at that point-- I put together in my head my experiences with Candice, and my experiences with Simon.
And I realized that one of the problems with Simon was that he was always strapped for cash, because he didn't really have a clear handle on what he was doing. He used to work at this big company, and he was basically going into startup territory, like a small company. That he was running himself. So he was just figuring it out as he went, and there were always revenue problems. This is one of the reasons that they were so reluctant to pay me fairly.
I understood that. I started thinking about it. And my mom, and my friends, and my family, they were all really annoyed with Simon. And kept telling me, "you should just quit, you should just…" …but I had this perspective of, well, you know, he doesn't know what he's doing, really. And I sort of realized, again I had this realization-- there's no separation between me and the people at the center of this industry.
And so I started working with people, and connecting with people, while I was staying in Ridgecrest, on Facebook. I would get up, and…it was a lot more of a healthy time than it was the first time I went back home, because of this realization. I would get up, I went running every morning, I exercised, and I sat down at my computer. And I started writing these little things on Facebook, which you've seen. And I tried to make it a little multimedia project. I would add pictures, I would add stories. I would get people involved in the discussion. I was trying to sort of turn Facebook into an art from.
And so while I was applying for jobs, and looking for other stuff, I was building this really intense Facebook following, and…basically trying to build that bridge, and test the space. Will my creative ideas work, if I actually expose them to people? Will people be interested? Sort of like A/B testing. Like, I'm going to try this, and I'm going to try that, and I'm going to see what people respond to. And if people respond to this, I'll build from that, and innovate more on that…I was just doing the footwork, doing it myself, instead of relying on somebody else to help me make culture, or give me a job, or whatever. And people seemed really interested.
And I would do little events when I went down to LA, where I would say, "oh, we're all going to watch this movie and we're doing to have a critical discussion about it," or…it became sort of a participatory social media art project, in a way. And I started working with my friend Ben, who-- he's a science journalist, and he writes about neuroscience. So I was helping him produce podcasts, and get his career off the ground and promote himself a bit. And now he's working for Scientific American and Huffington Post, and stuff, and starting to build a freelance career. I started getting involved with my friend Evan, who's a musician-- I started getting involved in these communities of creative people, and then connecting them all together.
And I was operating as a very effective social connecter, I guess, while I was also doing these little social media art projects. And I was still writing about issues on Facebook. And then Ben briefly dated Hannah, who you know. And that is how I met Hannah, and Hannah introduced me to Kim.
And Kim saw the things that I was doing on Facebook, and she heard the ideas that I was talking about; all of the ways that I was dissatisfied with the culture as it was, dissatisfied with the things that Simon was doing, all these ideas that I had that I was really excited to inject into the culture in whatever way I could. And she connected with all of them, a lot. A LOT a lot.
At first I was just sort of in disbelief, like, "really?" She has a storied career, she's done a lot of really great things. And so the fact that this person who had experience putting real creative stuff out there in the culture thought my ideas were…GOOD, or workable, or had something valuable…was INCREDIBLY validating. And it was exactly the opposite of the experience I had at We First, where I was constantly devalued; I wasn't allowed to do anything creative. I was just crossing t's and dotting i's, and none of my ideas were taken seriously.
And it's strange to me now. Because I've had a lot of experiences working with different people, and with startups and things like that SINCE my experience with Simon, and I look at what he's doing now, and I think to myself…there are so many ways he could be doing this better. But I didn't have the confidence to say that then, or to think that then.
Because I hadn't been validated in any of those things. I hadn't tried it myself and gotten this great response from the community, so I didn't know.
And I don't want to pit these people against each other. Everybody's sort of doing their own thing. Simon's doing his thing, and that's fine. It's just not my thing, you know?
Right! So does that take us pretty much up to the present, now?
So what do you see happening? What do you want now?
Well…I'm going through a period right now, of…for a while, I settled into this pattern of communicating in this particular way on social media, and writing these sort of encouraging posts for people, or taking apart social issues…I settled into a pattern. And to some extent I fell into a pattern with you guys, with Blue Sky, where I was just doing transcripts, and that kind of stuff.
But there are forces that are pushing on me now, and that are causing things to change a little bit. And one of them is money. It's getting to the point where I'm going to have to turn the stuff that I'm doing with Blue Sky, and the stuff that I'm doing on my own, into some kind of sustainable income if it's going to work out.
Because, you know, trips to LA cost money; continuing to put resources into these projects costs money and time. And that has to balance itself out somehow.
But then the other force that's working on me…I'm going back to a lot of projects….I'm thinking about putting out an ebook, because I have a following on Facebook that's reading everything I write, and begging for more writing from me. So it'd probably be relatively easy for me to put together a really nicely designed ebook…I wouldn't want to do it like other people do it. I don't do anything like that. So I would want it to be this immersive, aesthetically appealing thing that runs counter to most people's experiences of buying an ebook online. I want it to be this sort of intimate experience for people.
Actually, intimacy is a big word for me right now. That's a big thing. Anyway, the other force, besides the financial force that's working on me, is this other thing where…okay, I've established this nice, simple little easy relationship with this fan base on Facebook, and I have all this stuff going on. And it feels like… it sort of feels like something's waiting to be born. It feels like there's going to be, soon, this…I'm going to push the creative envelope further, in terms of what's possible in all of these areas.
Like, I've settled into figuring out how the space on Facebook works, and how all these other spaces work, and now it's time to take what I understand about the rules of all of these spaces, and innovate on them, and twist them, and do something really new. I'm putting together a lot of ideas around that. And one of the biggest ideas is intimacy.
Connection, and social media, and social branding are this huge thing right now. Everybody's really involved in the potentialities of digital culture, and the potentialities of the tech startup world, right? And every tech startup company that's coming around-- what they do-- it almost seems like, instead of being, or making experiences themselves, they package experiences together for people.
So, Facebook packages your social life, right? Instagram packages your pictures. They're conduits for media. So they're conduits for other people to tell stories through, and the conduits are making the big bucks, and the people that produce media, the stories, aren't making big bucks, really.
That's not necessarily true of, like, the motion picture industry, but that sort of happened to the music industry, and it may happen to the motion picture industry soon. Like, they're going to be cut into by all this digital technology. So the conduit people, the people that parse the content, are "the people" now.
And as I do, I started thinking to myself, "okay, what's the next step? Where do we go from here? How do you do the next thing?"
So I started thinking about…what if we made experiences…that's what I mean, when I'm talking about branding and multimedia experiences…what if we made experiences or told stories that didn't fit neatly into any of these conduits?
In other words, there are all these really simple…like, I watched a movie on Netflix, and everyone knows what that is. I did this on Instagram; everyone knows what that is. But if you have like, a small event, or an intimate gathering somewhere, where there's a multimedia presentation-- where there's dinner, or…I was involved in some underground dining events, when I was with Eliza; there was like live art and things like that. Or I did…what if you created these stories like real-life games…create these stories for people to live, that cross media boundaries and provide singular experiences that can't be reproduced, that they can't get anywhere else…that might be something. (laughs) Do you see what I'm saying here.
That's sort of where my head is at. And I was thinking about this too, when I was listening to…Kim's friend that she worked with, that worked with Martha Stewart also…
Yeah, Leslie. I was listening to Leslie talk, and she was talking about how she loves these intimate experiences of decorating, or throwing events with Martha, and she was saying in the interview…"you know, I really just want people to hire me to decorate their houses." And she's talking about how… "I understand all this, flowers and physical things, and beautiful places…" …she talked about that barn or whatever, where she was making the hatboxes, all this great stuff, you know. And she's talking about being an editor, and she's like "all this stuff is like, internet stuff now, and I don't understand this internet stuff; I just want to decorate some houses…" …and my immediate reaction was, "I understand internet stuff!"
Like, those things are not incompatible. You can bring them together. You can create a little community on Facebook, create a Facebook event for example, that's connected to a real-life event. She could throw these little parties; provide these experiences for people, or…there are things that are in-between, like I said, the traditionally parsed ways people interact with media.
Yeah. Wow…there's something about, and for, Blue Sky in this; what you're talking about that.
In a big, big way, right? And I don't want to make the interview about that, again. But that's another conversation.
No, it is! That is a big thing that I've been thinking about. Basically, I've been thinking along the lines of…me and Kim have been in discussion about this event that we want to do. And the way my thinking has connected those two things together is, well, the event should… there are all kinds of people that do book tours, and speaking engagements, and conferences, and things like that. And we want this to not fit neatly into any of those categories. We want it to be a really immersive, new experience that feels…we want to take people to a place that feels entirely new.
And whether we have them sitting around a campfire somewhere, you know what I'm saying, like… irreproducible.
Right! And can I just say, the other thing that's coming up for me…in terms of THIS project, the story project that I can't quite put my finger on what it wants to be…is that. That it wants to be…somehow, these stories want to be…something new. They want to be out there in a way that is unlike anything else…that's cross-platform; all these different platforms. I don't really know what it is. But I feel it; I can feel that. I’d love to talk to you about that sometime, maybe after we finish this interview...
So: what else wants to be said in terms of this story of you, this interview? Your story's not over, obviously…
Nope. None of the stories ever end. (laughs) Yeah…I don't know. You know, a lot of the threads sort of fit together; there's the religion thing, there's the spirituality thing, there's the art thing, there's the branding and the corporate culture and the pop culture. I'm still really interested in pop culture. I did a whole bunch of academic writing about Lady Gaga.
I got involved…there's an academic journal devoted entirely to her work. And I became a staff writer for them for a while, and I did some projects for them. So she's become a symbol for me of the amalgamation of positive energy, of creative inspiration and innovation, and…a lot of pop culture's like that, but I feel like she's a particularly compelling example.
I don't know, are you…is there anything that comes up for you, in terms of an area that you would like to pick at more, out of all of those areas that I talked about?
Well, I guess my remaining question is…clearly there are a lot of places that you're inspired, and there are a lot of directions, things to pursue. And you're so on it, and you're so connected, and…when you think about your future, or continuing your life, and your journey, how does it want to feel? How do you want it to feel to you?
Well, I've thought a lot about this. Because the thing is, I'm a very broad person. Either I'm a polymath, or I just have ADD. I've engaged in so many different projects, across so many different platforms, and I've regarded that as a problem. It's starting to become clear that a lot of these cross-platform experiences are happening, and a lot of these areas are being connected together. And so it's starting to feel a lot more like my engagement with brand-style projects is an asset. It's a good thing.
But if you're asking about my ideal thing; what I want my life to look like… let's take the Marriage Project as an example. I think at my core, what keeps me interested in the world, and what keeps me poking at things like branding and corporate culture and pop culture, what keeps me interested in poking at all that stuff, is that I think at my core, I look at myself as a performance artist.
So if I had my choice, of anything I could do, I would do projects that are as intense and sort of cultural-altering as the marriage project. Or Mother Goat Society, or whatever. But I would do those projects in an effort to accomplish something real, either for a client or a company. Like to promote something, or to get a community of people together to solve a problem…ideally. Everybody wants to create art for money, but ideally, specifically for me, I would make or perform or create experiences or events….that involve being a creative director, for these experiences…that open up people to an understanding of what kinds of stories they can live, in their lives.
Because the marriage project was this experiment, like, I'm going to take the story of my life, and I'm going to do crazy things to it. Like, I'm going to make an incredible story for myself. I'm going to turn my life into an incredible story. And so… if I can find a way to apply that kind of creative thought…and maybe I could meet with clients…or maybe, I could just do it for myself. You know, really, fundamentally, I enjoy being an artist. But I understand that not every creative project is going to be lucrative, and in the meanwhile I need to continue to live and work.
It's POSSIBLE, it's possible that my work and my art and my writing…that's the conversation that I've had with Kim over and over again. You know, there's the creative side, and there's the practical side. But one of the big ideas behind Blue Sky is that those things can be fused together. Or, that you don't have to sacrifice your creative spark on the altar of practicality. You do have to consider the practical dimensions of your creative work; how it's going to connect to people, you know.
So I don't know if that answers your question at all. But I would love to do these performance art projects, or create these culturally disruptive experiences, but the best way to make money off of that is to do it on behalf of clients. And I would love to do that. But I want those clients to trust me, in the interim. Because I think I've demonstrated that I create projects that compel people. You know what I mean? So instead of just executing these old, tired strategies in terms of creating culture…I want to experiment with that, creating new experiences for people.
And this could even eventually take the form of…you know, I've played around a lot with the idea of…how does one make money off of creative work, in the contemporary, the modern era.
And there are a lot of people that are still trying to put out books, put out albums of music or, you know… basically sell information, sell data, sell little packages of information, and get paid for them. But one of the biggest problems-- it's affected the music industry, it's affected the publishing industry, it's affected everybody….is that you can make an infinite number of copies of digital information, and you can send it all over the world in a split second. And so the law of supply and demand kicks in. Like, if you have an infinite supply of this stuff…It's not worth anything.
Like, if you have a banana, and you have a button you can push to make an infinite number of copies of this banana, and send the banana all over the world an instant, how much money does a banana cost? Nothing. It's a free banana now. And so there are all these companies trying to sell free bananas. Trying to sell this information…and how do you get around that problem?
And one of the things that Hannah and I have talked about a lot is the "economy of personality". Basically, Lady Gaga doesn't make a living based on how many albums she sells; she makes more money touring than she makes on album sales these days. Basically, people reward Lady Gaga just for being who she is. And they pay for access to her personality-- access to this world of inspiration that she's created.
And that might be a clue. People might want to contribute money back for the reward of having access to this world, having access to this inspiration. So instead of this idea of selling things, some package of content, you have this idea of admission, or subscription, or…an access gate. We want you to come in, and you have access to this process.
Ideas like that…like, I have this huge following on Facebook. And if I keep putting out content, and I keep doing creative projects, and maybe eventually graduate to doing events, and putting together experiences… I'm thinking I'll eventually be able to put together a situation where what people are interested in is me, and the aesthetic atmospheres that I've created. And the atmospheres, and the encouragements, and the inspirations that we generate as a part of Blue Sky. You know what I mean?
All of this stuff, this energy that's pouring out of these creative, synergistic connections that we've made with one another…people will want access to that.
Right. It feels like what you're getting is that really, what people are wanting are these felt experiences.
Yes. Yeah. Exactly.
I mean, that's an oversimplification, maybe, but…so I guess my question is, what is the feeling experience that you most want your life to be? What do YOU want?
Huh. Well…um…I want...
I know that's a big question. (laughs)
(laughs) that's a big question, yeah. Kim would always give me shit about this. Because she would ask me, well, what do you want? And I would start talking in terms of career, and practicalities, and stuff like that. And she would always be like, "no, no, no…"
I noticed that! Yes.
…"no, no, no, what do YOU want to do?" …I think I really want to create magic. Magical worlds. But the practical does come into it, though… because I also want to support my friends. I want to create a place where I, and my friends, can build a world that inspires us; a world that's beautiful, that we can live in together, and connect more people to.
Actually, for me, personally, though… that beauty takes the form, like I was talking about earlier…of mystery. Like, exploration. I like new things, I like novelty, I like pushing the boundaries, I like taking the next step. I want my sense of experiences, and the stories I know, to always be challenged by NEW experiences, and by new ways of doing things, so...
(sigh)…I don't know if I have a good answer for that question. (laughs) umm...
Because it feels…obviously, it gives you a particular feeling, right? Is it the feeling of magic, the mystery, or…
Yeah. I think it's just…I feel most…I feel most purely joyful when I'm experiencing something new, and/or something magical. Something new, something beautiful. And beauty…the thing is, for me, the word "beauty," the definition of that word is really broad. Like, intense, difficult, and mysterious things can also be beautiful to me. But the primary thing is…I'm happy…I feel a sense of, I guess, exultation when I'm diving into a new experience; when I'm GOING.
You know, when I'm taking off on a road-trip. Going. Like, ideally, in terms of work, I'd be able to work from anywhere, and I'd be able to collaborate with new and fascinating people all the time, to do these new cultural…you know. So it's all about exploration.
You know, actually, the best…the image that comes up for me…you know, this is so funny, because it goes all the way back to The Chronicles of Narnia, like I said, that I read when I was a kid. And you know, like I said, they're a Christian allegory, but they're also really wonderful. C.S. Lewis is a genius.
I was always bored by the idea of heaven. That was one of the problems that I had when I was young and I was Christian. Is that, oh, this nice, happy place, where people are just happy and comfortable, or they're just worshipping God for all eternity, or whatever. This white, fluffy dream of heaven. You know? Where you just go, and you're there forever.
I couldn't think of any vision of an eternal, permanent heaven that would be compelling to me. Like, I couldn't imagine a compelling heaven, and so that really deflated the whole idea of Christianity.
But C.S. Lewis did it. He came up with the heaven that would be heaven for me.
Basically, at the very end of the last book of The Chronicles of Narnia-- it's almost like the apocalypse of this world, this fictional world that C.S. Lewis created. It's like the Book of Revelations of his fantasy world. It's called The Last Battle. There's this final battle, and then at the very end, after everything's resolved, and everything's tied up, all of the characters find themselves in this beautiful place. Right?
And they look at this place, this land that they've found themselves in, and it goes on forever and ever and ever and ever in every direction. Right? And there are mountains, and forests, and canyons, and oceans and plains, and it's just this vast land, right? And so they start exploring this place, and they find out-- and this is a biblical phrase, he took this from the bible, but…they find out that they can run as fast as they want to and they never get tired. Right? So they can explore this place infinitely, and they can continue…
…and so they start running. Right? Up this mountain. And they get to almost sort of the center of this land, and they find this walled garden on top of this mountain. Right? And they go inside this garden, and they discover that it's bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. In other words, inside what looks like this walled garden on a hill, is a world that's even larger and crazier and more varied than the one they were just exploring. And this process goes on forever. And there's an endless sense of discovery, an endless sense of exploration, and they can just run forever, through this land of discovery, and never get tired.
And the phrase that they're chanting at the end…they're all yelling, and encouraging one another, and they're all saying, "further up and further in! Further up and further in!”
Right. It just keeps going. And so I closed that book, and I was like, well, C.S. Lewis, you finally did it. You created a heaven that would be compelling to me. Maybe that illuminates, to some extent, the sensation I'm looking for. It's like this singing, running, exultant sense of exploration. Yeah.
Oh, yes! So that's it. There it is. That's the money note, as Kim would say. That is the thing.
And ultimately, regardless of… the external expression of anything, practicalities or anything else…that is what is at the heart of…that's what's motivating you.
At the core. That's what's in your heart. Right?
Yeah. I mean, it is! EXACTLY what's in my heart. I guess…I just realized that if I had to distill it down to one word, I'd call it adventure. I'm looking for adventure. But, like…that sensation…and I mean, I experience that sensation in everyday life, too. I've had these sort of peak experiences where I'm like, driving up the California coast, the redwood coast, along this road along the cliffs, and I have music blasting, and I'm heading off somewhere, I don't even know where…you know. I don't have any plan…that's the best feeling. That's the best feeling in the world.
So that's it. That's the feeling to follow. That's it. That's so great.
Yeah. It's really great. And that's important for me to realize. Because…it's empowering to…life can be difficult sometimes, and some of these problems can be difficult to solve. But it's empowering to realize that that shouldn't discourage me, because what I'm LOOKING for is adventure. What I'm looking for is new problems to solve. So…you see what I'm saying? It's great encouragement. It's like, okay, just dive in.
I was born in a wasteland, really.
I mean, that’s how most people would describe it– a weapons testing facility in the Mojave desert called China Lake. My father was an engineer and computer scientist for the Department of Defense; he helped create the Sidewinder missile.
It helped that I had an overactive imagination as a kid, because there really wasn’t much to do. We played in the desert, dug holes, built forts out of tumbleweeds and old pieces of scrap wood. We filled the blank world around us with our own inner thoughts and loves. This was good practice for my later work as an artist, but at the time I had trouble seeing the point. I wanted the world to be more interesting than it was.
— Devin O’Neill