Levis Amazing New Ad Campaign

I admit, when I first moved to Mexico City, I loved living outside my culture. I loved being surrounded by different people, different ways of thinking, a different language … but most of all, I loved being away from my own culture. I definitely went through a rejection period. When I returned to the US for visits I would proudly walk through the airport thinking I was way better that everyone in the US because I had left the US. I had rejected all things big and materialistic and orderly and sterile. I had rejected English & what I considered at the time to be highly annoying cultural characteristics – like sticking to a schedule. I felt good about it. I was naive.

Now, a few years and many miles of travels later, I have matured a bit, evolved my thinking a bit, and come back around to evaluate my own culture with fresh eyes. I dont think I´m better than people who still live in the US. I dont think my culture is annoying. I am not embarrassed to say I´m from the US. (which might have a little to do with the change in DC … ) Instead, I feel proud of many things American. I feel proud to come from an extremely diverse culture. I feel proud to come from a country full of creativity and inspiration. I feel proud to be a curious, open-minded, friendly person representing the good things (hopefully!) of the US. I listen to all kinds of music – from rap & R&B to jazz and country, I watch movies – from indie films & spots on you-tube to hollywood hits, I love my Mac electronics, I read and laugh and taste and feel, and I am happy to come from a country that fosters invention, innovation and supports the arts. And I am grateful that I was raised to treat everyone equally, no matter what their social status, their skin color, their gender or sexual preference. Because in many parts of the world, people aren´t so open & accepting.

Of course, there are still things about the US that I dont like. For instance, I think people tend to get trapped into thinking there is only one way to live life, which often involves debt, long-term planning, and aversion to risk/adventure. I also think too many Americans are obsessed with happiness (and their general mental/emotional health). And while the US is the birthplace to so much creativity, technology & art, there is an overly proud, “better than you” attitude that often gets exported along with the music, movies and brands.

Levis Go Forth Campaign - Walt Whitman poems

So, while I no longer feel embarrassed or reject my country and culture of origin, I also realize it is up to me to decide which cultural traits I will portray … and which I will reject. (Though I am sure many Anthropologists would argue that we cannot choose our cultural traits. I think as adults we can decide who we want to be.) I feel like I have a more clear sighted view of my own culture – for better or for worse. I now realize that one´s outlook on life is not a result of where they choose to live, but rather of who a person is inside, what their values are, what their dreams are, how they like to spend their day. I no longer feel like I am escaping anything by living abroad. But there are things about living abroad that make me want to stay. Maybe it´s easier for me to be more open to life when I am forced to, everyday. Maybe I´m just lazy, and Mexico kicks my butt just enough to make life a little more challenging and interesting. Lord knows it is NOT because I like to be asked everyday where I am from and how long I have been here! At least now I can say “Estados Unidos” with confidence.

Magritte - Painter of Dreams?

Magritte - Painter of Dreams?

You can call me odd. I am one of those rare breeds who takes their dreams very seriously. I dream every night … usually multiple dreams in a night. And I ALWAYS remember my dreams. I wake up and stay in my dream. My roommates used to laugh at me because if someone woke me up I would tell them to give me 10 minutes to “finish my dream.” And I would literally go back to sleep and finish my dream. While I can sometimes control my dreams, I am usually surprised and thrown off course by the content of them.

In the past week alone I have dreamed the following topics:

  • Falling into a lake infested with Crocodiles after flying around in large circles on a loose vine and dropping at the end of the trajectory
  • Watching someone else´s baby and forgetting to take care of it (oops!)
  • A boxer´s life story revealing his secret life as a dancer
  • A department store that´s really a hospital … with a hidden chamber in the basement with two brothers fighting over stolen, one-of-a-kind classic red sports cars
Fractal Art by Vicky Brago-Mitchell

Fractal Art by Vicky Brago-Mitchell

I sometimes think that if I could just learn to write better, I could write some amazing stories based on the material of my dreams. Or perhaps they would just sound like crazy, doped-out, incongruous randomness … hard to tell.  Some of the dreams are quite scary. More than once I have woken up scared of the creepy creativity possible in my very own mind. And I wonder, do the horror movies come out of whacked-out dreams? Is David Lynch just a dream-writer? Do we have to enter into this dreamy state to harness our true creative powers? Do artists take drugs to try to mimic the effects of natural dreams? And my most important question … how can I make money from this odd, sort of creepy talent of mine to dream and remember it all? Comments dear readers?

Max Ernst ... used nightmares for inspiration?

Max Ernst ... used nightmares for inspiration?

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a girl from New York who’s started a storytelling night in Mexico City. Apparently she came across my blog, assumed I must be a writer, and asked me to join the group as a writer/storyteller. I was first flattered, then scared. But I agreed to join. So for the past few Tuesday evenings, I have been attending this little international gathering of people who listen and read true, personal, self-authored stories. It has forced me to start thinking more about the art of writing and learn how to tell a captivating story, which is actually a vital part of any communication. It is important in business just as in personal life and social interactions.

In fact, I just came across this little experiment done to prove just how powerful a captivating story can be, even in a business presentation, in a blog on research by Joel Rubinson: “At the ARF Industry Leader Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday … we had a live biometric experiment courtesy of Innerscopewho measured 4 biometric functions from 20 volunteer attendees wearing a lightweight vest that transmits wirelessly. The highest attentiveness and arousal readings of the whole morning occurred during storytelling moments!” Proof that storytelling, even in a business setting, is imperative for captivating audiences.

Why do we love stories so much?  In the article,  storytellingthatmovespeople, famous screenwriting coach Robert McKee explains that, “stories  fulfill a profound human need to grasp the patterns of living — not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience.”

“A story expresses how and why life changes,” beginning “with a situation in which life is relatively balanced” … “but then there’s an event that throws life out of balance.” He says all great storytellers in history and today deal with “this fundamental conflict between subjective expectation and cruel reality.” Because as we all know, life is not always rosy. Nor should it be, he argues, claiming, “the great irony of existence is that what makes life worth living does not come from the rosy side … The energy to live comes from the dark side. As we struggle against these negative powers, we’re forced to live more deeply, more fully.” Fascinating! I think this is really true.

When you think of the best stories and movies, they all involve characters trying to overcome great obstacles. And that is what makes them interesting. The same is true for life. Think of your personal life stories … they probably involve some sort of “cruel reality” that you had to overcome, right? Perhaps some negative event in your childhood? In fact, Robert McKee believes that childhood traumas play an important [positive] role in our creative lives. “The art of storytelling takes intelligence, but it also demands a life experience that I’ve noted in gifted film directors: the pain of childhood.”  So you see, we should thank our parents for giving us difficult childhoods … they were really just trying to give us material for creative storytelling!

Blog bonus: Here are a great clip on storytelling from one of my favorite modern storytellers, Ira Glass from my favorite radio show, This American Life. Enjoy!