Is Life in Black and White or in Color? Is It Real or Just a Dream? What was Before and What is Beyond the Vanilla Sky?

At point does “real” become imaginary?  Or does “real” never become imaginary, but instead, is “real” sometimes unseen and not yet understood?

What initially begins as blue skies which we can literally see above us does eventually become the dark, black, mysterious outer space where we assume God and the angels are.  And maybe even aliens and time traveling holes in the universe. While the past simply begins at one second ago, which we all can verify quite easily, if we continue going back in time, we eventually find ourselves in stitched-together memories of high school and even childhood.  Keep going, and we were not even born yet.  Travel further back in time, and we would see Abraham Lincoln, whom we all agree was a real person.  Go still further back to the life of Jesus, whom some proclaim is the Son of God, some proclaim was simply a great teacher, and some proclaim was never actually a real person. Go back to the days of Abraham, the earthly father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Finally, we get to Adam and Eve and before that, the beginning of the Earth and the Universe.  But at what point in reverse time do you stop believing in reality?  At what point does it become hard to believe?

What started out as simple look around us ended up becoming one strange trip. It’s easy to recognize what exists right before us in our own time and space.  But very quickly as we extend the frame of perception, we have to admit we can not literally prove anything.  Faith is unavoidable, for every single person alive today and every single person who has died in the history of the world.

While I am definitely a self-proclaimed black and white kind of guy, as I love things to be simply laid out before me in a practical way I can follow and understand them, I am just as equally an abstract, neon colors kind of guy as well. I am a cross-breed.  I am a hybrid.  And I believe that life is as well.

We can not separate the mostly relatable first episode of the TV show LOST from its spiritual, heavenly series finale.  Our existence is both real and a dream.  It is both tangible and invisible.  It is both reality and a fairy tale.  Until we reach the limits of outer space, and until we travel completely back and forwards in time, life is something we can not truly begin to figure out or understand in the smallest degree.

Life is both black and white and color.  Life is both real and a dream.

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Just Like the Uniqueness of Human Fingerprints, No Two People Share the Same Version of Reality

Is the integrity of “reality” compromised because it’s different for every person on Earth?

One of the subconscious questions that we movie watchers love to deal with is “What is reality?”  Maybe the main character was actually dead the whole time.  Maybe the whole thing was a computer-generated reality that took place centuries after the main character died.  Maybe the setting wasn’t really the 1800’s, but instead current day the entire time.  These movie twists are interesting because they reveal our fascination with the fact that “reality” is more of an idea and less of a certainty.  Even if most people agree that this world we all live in is indeed reality, there is still the afterlife (or “after reality”) to consider, which completely complicates and enhances the importance of reality.

These thoughts about reality, the meaning of life, and the afterlife are unavoidable at some point in life, for most people.  When someone we are close to dies, our thoughts have to at least consider for a few minutes what happens next for that person.  But even in its simplest form, it’s still difficult to grasp the fact that reality, if nothing else, is different for every person on Earth- and therefore, reality is a static thing, even if most of us agree what reality generally is.  So why is reality so different for each individual?

Sometimes when I read, I come across a quote that I wish I would have thought up myself.  Last week as I was reading Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman, hidden somewhere in the middle of this random yet organized book (page 169) I found this nugget of epiphany: “The strength of your memory dictates the size of your reality.”

For a guy like me who is arguably only a few notches away from being Aspergers, with a vibrant memory of details of my life all the way back to my 2nd birthday party in 1983, my obsessive habits regarding pop trivia, and my natural ability to memorize Wikipedia highlights, it could be said that if the above quote is true, then the size of my reality is pretty large.  But even if you’re not a walking Wikipedia like me, you still have used your memory to save meaningful information (like certain things you learned in your highest level of education, as well as social cues and expectations) along with meaninglessinformation (like who won the Super Bowl in 1997 or who Jake Pavelka chose on the finale of The Bachelor).  The purposeful along with the pointless are both mixed together along with memories from your life that for whatever reason are not forgotten.  These are some of the major ingredients that make up an individual reality.

But even if we can’t all share the same reality (which would be beyond boring), through our meaningful human relationships we can form a similar version of reality.  For life to have meaning, life must be shared: The more shared experiences people have with each other, the greater their shared reality is.  Our friendships, our families, our political affiliations, our religious organizations… they all help make reality a reality.


Does Facebook Make Life More Real or Does It Actually Take Away from the Realness of Life Instead?

And is it possible that the facebook world is more of the real world than the actual real world?  And why is facebook noticeably less interesting on the weekend and during holidays?


Editor’s note: Keep in mind that with any of my posts, if you see something underlined, you can click on it to read another one my writings specifically about that phrase, or it may even lead you to a Wikipedia entry, which is equally as exciting.

Like most tricky open-ended questions I propose to world-wide audiences, it depends on the perspective and lifestyle of the person being asked.  But since part of my job as a writer who strives to be unpredictably provocative is to choose a side and stick with it, I have a firm answer for this “there’s no wrong or right answer” kind of question.  Often, the side I choose is the least expected one:  I am typically wired to root for the underdog.  So of course, anyone who reads my writings regularly should correctly assume that every time I will be defending the less popular answer.

Obviously, the overtly “correct” answer is that facebook takes away from the realness of life.  It prevents us from actually going over to each other’s houses and playing Yahtzee like we should.  It keeps us from calling our family members on the phone when we can just read their status update or look at their newest pictures.  Facebook is single-handedly deconstructing what real relationships are all about.  Facebook ironically eliminates actual face time with the people we are close to.  Therefore, the people we are “close to” literally become distant from us.

And while I acknowledge the relative truth in the paragraph above, it’s not the school of thought I am compelled to believe as my own reality.  In my version of reality, facebook actually makes life more real.  If I really want to call a person, or invite myself to drive to their house, I will.  Facebook doesn’t stop me from doing that.  Maybe that makes me old-fashioned.  But for me, facebook actually enhances the relationships in my life.  I often actually have more to talk about with people on the phone or in real life, sometimes because of something that happened on facebook.

Admittedly, out of my nearly 800 facebook friends, it’s safe to say that I literally don’t know who a quarter of them are.  The majority of my facebook friends are not people who know me well enough to have programmed my number into their cell phone number.  But when I propose one of my deep questions like the title of this post, or “what makes a person normal?” it’s often these exact people who are the first to respond.  Interestingly, the people who typically respond to my randomness are not the people I see on a regular basis or even within the past year or two.  (And for the people who I actually do see and talk to on a regular basis, I’m asking these questions to their face and they are answering in person so there is no need to answer on facebook.)

So what does that say about how facebook enhances relationships?  For me, I’d say it completely sustains the friendships which would have likely disintegrated if not for the opportunity to casually engage in a brief, random conversation topic without the commitment ever having to say “hello” or “goodbye”.  But is there any possibility that facebook is actually more of a reality than actual reality? I say absolutely yes.  It just depends on your definition of “reality”.

I have written before about how the time we spend at work is not the real world, but instead a necessary Avatar world or Matrix or lucid dream (reference to Vanilla Sky) that we enter in order to fund the actual real world.  Therefore, the true real world is the “off the clock” reality where we spend time with friends and family, along pursuing our own interests and hobbies.  With that being said, if the real world is largely defined by the people who are who are important to us outside of work (though obviously everyone has some “real friends” at work who supersede both realities), then I have to acknowledge that the interactions I am involved with on facebook are in a sense more “real” than most of the other hours spent each day.

To me, when I jokingly harass my arch nemesis/friend Ben Wilder via a wall comment, or I “like” someone’s picture of them embarrassing themselves, or I send a message to a friend about weekend plans, that’s more real than the four collected hours I spent talking to clients on the phone at work that day.  It’s more real than the round-trip hour I spend in the car driving to and from work each weekday.  For me, true reality is all about the people who mean something to me, whether those people are literally in the room there with me, or 700 miles away but on facebook.

The proof in the pudding for me is when I check out readership trends on this site, Scenic Route Snapshots.  There are typically hundreds of more readers on normal weekdays, compared to weekends and holidays.  That’s because people escape the fake real world (their work life) by playing on the Internet, therefore entering the actual real world.  Ironically, this post was written and ready by Thanksgiving Day, but I had allow for the holiday fallout to settle before publishing it.  Otherwise, it could have gone unnoticed.

Granted, I’m old-fashioned in that I still believe it’s rude to answer your phone or reply to a text message while in the physical presence of friends or family, especially during the middle of a conversation.  It’s a matter of prioritizing your reality.  Your top priority is those who are literally in the room with you.  It bugs me so much when I am making an effort to physically be in the same room as a person but I am second rate to another person they are talking to via text message or smart phone, who is just as real as I am, but isn’t actually there like I am.

So despite making an argument that facebook enhances reality and is actually more real than reality in some cases, I still acknowledge that respect for physical presence should not be forsaken.  Of course I completely understand who so many people feel that facebook takes away from real life, because honestly, the invention of the Internet and facebook is a lot like a modern rebuilding of the Tower of Babel- which is something I’ve noticed and written about before.

Ultimately, facebook is an enhancer of the life that already exists- like the way salt magnifies the flavor of food.  If you are already a social person who has healthy relationships with people in real life, facebook probably adds to the quality of these relationships.  If you are already a person who is not good at corresponding with people who are outside of your immediate circle, there’s a good chance you either ignore those “outsider” facebook friends even more or find them to be the most annoying (though you still haven’t gone through the trouble to delete them).  And if you’re a person who loves Farmville… I’m amazed you broke away long enough from tending to your goats to read this.

Statistical Bonus!

Below, notice the typical drop in the number of views on Saturdays and Sundays, the major drop on Thanksgiving Day (November 26), and the overall drop during the entire week  of Thanksgiving as compared to every other week.  That’s why my catch phrase for this site is “a great way to get distracted from life”- because more people visit here when they want to be distracted, not when they are actually hanging with people in their  true “real world”.

Daily Views on Scenic Route Snapshots

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun Total Average Change
Oct 25 

676

Oct 26 

747

Oct 27 

885

Oct 28 

695

Oct 29 

749

Oct 30 

809

Oct 31 

701

5,262 752
Nov 1 

652

Nov 2 

823

Nov 3 

910

Nov 4 

927

Nov 5 

835

Nov 6 

612

Nov 7 

588

5,347 764 +1.62%
Nov 8 

817

Nov 9 

766

Nov 10 

889

Nov 11 

741

Nov 12 

642

Nov 13 

552

Nov 14 

621

5,028 718 -5.97%
Nov 15 

732

Nov 16 

1,044

Nov 17 

935

Nov 18 

1,031

Nov 19 

984

Nov 20 

657

Nov 21 

891

6,274 896 +24.78%
Nov 22 

715

Nov 23 

701

Nov 24 

665

Nov 25 

617

Nov 26 

497

Nov 27 

538

Nov 28 

628

4,361 623 -30.49%
Nov 29 

655

Nov 30 

779

Dec 1 

776

2,292 737 +18.25%


Becoming a Different Person at Work: Does It Truly Always Pay to Be Yourself?

I wish the “real world” would just stop hassling me.

In theory, I am an actor for a living.  Given the generation I am a part of, I am overaware that I should never be ashamed of who I really am.  That it’s basically a sin to pretend to be someone I’m not.  And while I’ve done a pretty good job of living my life that way, there is one facet of life where I’ve learned it’s not really smart to be yourself- instead, you’re rewarded by being a different person- I’m referring to the work place.

I’ve explained my theory before that we all have a handful of different personalities that we share with different people in our lives.  But recently I realized that the personality I use at work is drastically different than any other of my personalities.  Here are just a few observances about me at work and how that’s not the real me:

-More aggressive and confrontational with people I don’t personally know

-Cautious to speak my mind or let my emotions show

-Don’t stand up for myself, even against co-workers

-Do my best to hide my true personality

-Constantly act as if I know all the answers

-Pretend I don’t have a life outside work

-Wear glasses, since I’m in front of a computer all day

-Tuck shirt into pants

"Work Chandler" is a prime example.

 

It’s sad for me to play this part of someone I’m not- but here’s the thing: By playing my “work role”, I am able to make a living.  Literally, it pays to be someone I’m not.  What is the real world?  To me, it’s my life outside of work.  But to many, it represents work, along with a lifestyle of chasing things that don’t actually matter- and that’s when I throw the phrase into sarcastic quotation marks like this: the “real world”.

When I go to work everyday, I enter an imaginary Avatar world where I care about policies, technicalities, the constant appearance of busyness, and being a guy who is not willing to rock the boat.  For me, that’s not the real world at all (though typically work and responsibility equals the “real world”) – but it pays the bills for the actual real world (my personal life), so I don’t complain.  Even now, I am simply making an observation that I’m sure many of us subconsciously know, but keep tucked away in the back of our minds, as to not seem ungrateful for our jobs.  I am extremely grateful for my employment, but the bottom line is, the version of me that people from work know is not me at all- and I’ve worked with them for years now.


Every place of employment has their own culture; their own unspoken rules.  Your first couple of weeks, you keep your head down and observe the code.  What matters there?  What doesn’t matter there?  Then once you get a good feel for it, you become the necessary person for that version of reality.  This is normal procedure.  The norm is not to be yourself- because if you did, you wouldn’t fit into the culture and would endanger yourself of… being voted off the island.

I work from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday, with two 15 minute breaks and an hour lunch.  That’s 42.5 hours a week, which translates to ¼ of my life, and that’s including sleep.  By the time I factor in travel time (an hour a day), and time to cook dinner and then clean up, I only see my wife for a couple of hours before it’s time to time for bed.  And the weekends are obviously full of errands and chores we didn’t have time for during the weekdays.  Put into perspective, the time allotted for the actual real world (life outside of work) translates to crumbs from a huge meal.  I spend more waking hours with coworkers (who know a false version of me) than I do my own wife (who knows the real me).

The term “the real world” typically represents the hustle-and-bustle part of life.  But the irony is that for most of us (I hope), we recognize the real world and as the reality where we can truly be ourselves.  Because unless I worked at home as a full time writer, I will continue spending one quarter of my life acting as an aggressive, nerdy, robotic, no complaints yes-man.

Granted, the work place isn’t the only situation where it doesn’t pay to be yourself.  Anytime you have to “be on your best behavior”, you’re not really being yourself.  Like a first date.  You may be taking certain hidden traits of and qualities of yours and amplifying them for the right occasion, but still, in general, it’s a major stretch from your normal self.  It pays to be yourself most of the time, but to ignore the inevitable exceptions is a set up for failure.

“I find sometimes it’s easy to be myself. Sometimes I find it’s better to be somebody else.” -Dave Matthews Band (“So Much to Say”)


Humble and Embarrassing Beginnings: Five Years of the Writings of Nick Shell

An autobiographic look at the Scenic Route Snapshots franchise.

Scenic Route Snapshots: Est. August 2005.

When people show you a picture of themselves from five or more years ago, the tendency is often to laugh at their longer/froey hair and outdated clothing and say, “That was you?” Because ultimately that younger, less experienced version of a person was more naïve and goofier than the version of that person we know today.  Of course, it’s no different for each of us.  We too have many laughable aspects about ourselves when we look back on them, five or more years later.

This month makes exactly five years that I’ve been writing online.  In August 2005 I was in the process of moving from Fort Payne, AL (having just graduated from Liberty University a few months before) to Nashville, TN to start my career in music (which I decided wasn’t what I really wanted to do, after a year of being here).  I starting writing MySpace blogs as a way to document new life pursuing a career in music.  It’s not that my writings were all horrible those first couple of years; looking back, I can actually see some jewels in the gravels.  But for the most part, they were pretty cheesy, not to mention they were all about me and “making my dreams a reality”.

Obviously it was those early years in particular that helped me realize ways to improve my writing, eventually giving birth to The Code.  That means my older writings consistently violated The Code and I’m sure that’s part of the main reason it’s so difficult for me to go back and read them.  But anyone who has ever been successful in any kind of enterprise surely endured the same sort of sloppy early years as well.

Yes, that generic version of what we know as good and relevant was probably not always good and relevant.  Like the episodes of Saved by the Bell with Miss Bliss or the Tracey Ullman version of The Simpsons or the British version of The Office.  Sure, hardcore fans will always approve, but the rest of us know to stay away, lest we become disappointed and somehow allow our idea of a pure thing to become tainted.

And the still, the irony of this whole concept will surely prove itself that much more five years from now, when I use this post as a point of reference to show the place in time where Scenic Route Snapshots really started taking off.  The point where 1,934 were my highest views in one day (happened this week) instead of that being a slow day.  The point where I could admit that humble beginnings were over for Scenic Route Snapshots, yet the big break had not happened yet.

What started in August of 2005 as a goofy blog that just a handful of my friends read has evolved into an actual website that currently receives around 1,000 hits per day.  I sure don’t know where the future of Scenic Route Snapshots is going, but as long as I can still claim to be a writer who never experiences writer’s block, the posts will keep being born.

Bonus!

Read my very first “blog” from August 16, 2005, entitled “I Choose to Be a Fatalist” at the bottom of the page at this link:

http://www.myspace.com/nickshell1983/blog?page=13

It was this 2005 version of me that laid the ground work to get me where I am today.

LOST Recap: Season 6, Episode 16- “What They Died For”

 

I can’t always be right- Ben is definitely ultimately a bad guy, at least in reality.  Ben is doing his best to keep his promise to Widmore that he will kill Penny. 

So I was wrong about Ben, but I still think the finale will end in modern day 2010, which so far has never been seen on LOST, only up to 2009.

Desmond in alt-reality is starting to make a lot more sense now.  He ran over Locke to jog his memory of reality and his gathering everyone he can for a reunion which somehow will serve a purpose of changing reality, despite living in alt-reality.

Two minor questions were answered.  Why does Faux Locke walk when he can fly?  He likes the feeling of having his feet on the ground as it reminds him of being human.  Why was Kate’s name crossed off the list on the cave wall?  She became a mom to Aaron, that’s the only reason.  But by her coming back to the island, she technically put her name back on the list, as Jacob offered to change it back.

Though I already knew it in the back of my mind, Jacob confirmed why he chose the candidates: They are all flawed, alone, and looking for something- just like Jacob.  As is the newly orphaned Ji Yeon who will replace Jack as the island’s protector.

Well, I’m pretty excited about the LOST party I will be attending Sunday night.  Now I understand how the rest of America feels when the Super Bowl is on.  As far as my expectations, I have a feeling the finale will evoke the same feel and emotion as the episode “The Candidate”, where Jin and Sun died.

It will be sad, yet it will be the only way for the thing to end properly. And all of our questions will not be answered.  Just the main ones.  The unanswered ones will help keep LOST alive by all our theories that will continue to be born, keep LOST alive in our hearts.

I wonder if at the end of the finale on Sunday, if the screen will say “FOUND” instead of “LOST”.  Probably not.  Too predictable.

What Movie Rating Does Real Life Get? (G, PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17)

If your life was a movie, what would it be rated?

I recently watched a documentary questioning the secrecy and allusiveness of the MPAA movie rating system, called “This Film is Not Yet Rated”. While I’m not opposed to the American movie rating system because I see it as a decent way for parents to decide which movies are more suitable for their children, I also admit there is some humor in the way that movies are arbitrarily given ratings.

In general, more than one f-word grants an “R” rating. “Artistic or comic nudity” can land with “PG-13” or even “PG”, but if the nudity involves romantic or sexual content, then the movie will be an “R”. A panel of judges make a living off of making that call.

By now it’s pretty obvious that most studios want the majority of their films to be rated “PG-13” because more people will be able to see it. “PG” is for young kids and “R” weeds out the kids who are not smart enough to pay for one movie but walk into another.

The thing that most stood out to me from watching the documentary was this:

Compared to Europe, America has it backwards when it comes to sexuality and violence in movies. In Europe, sex scenes are portrayed in a more matter-of-fact/this-just-part-of-life manner. An absence of chiseled abs, large breasts, and steamy music. Not glamorized.

But when it comes to violence, Europe leaves a lot more to the imagination. They’re more offended by violence and less worried about sexual content.

In America, our movies are infiltrated by sex any time there’s a slight opportunity for it. But it’s so fake. Women have the sex drives of men. The atmosphere is perfect. The lighting is just right. And of course both participants have perfect bodies that could be (and often have been) featured partially nude on a health magazine cover. For me it’s just not believable.

Yet despite our obsession, compared to Europe, we’re much more offended by sex in movies. Culturally, America is a Christian nation. So we’re much more likely to be bothered or affected by heavy sexual content in a movie.

So we shy away from sex in movies, but indulge in violence. And not just grotesque stuff like the Saw movies.

We love war movies. We just do. Because there’s nothing more American than seeing the good guys kill the bad guys.

Like any James Bond movie for example. Loaded with countless murders by gunshots. Yet a lack of blood. Therefore, James Bond movies aren’t rated “R”, but “PG-13” instead.

The theory is that violent movies have this undertone that speak to teenage boys and young men: “Just imagine, if you fought in the U.S. military, you could be the one with the gun. Protecting our country. Killing and defeating the enemy.”

The regular presence of violence in American entertainment desensitizes us to it. The more we see it, the more we’re used to it. And it’s not really a moral issue to us.



While we may not be willing to be part of the firing squad that executes an American criminal convicted of murder and rape, our conscious doesn’t bother us as much about killing the enemy in a war who happened to be born in the wrong country with a dictator who is forcing him to fight against us. Yet he may have never killed or raped anyone. Until now, he could be just a another normal family man. But if he doesn’t fight for his corrupt political leader, his life will end anyway.

Both the sex and the violence are fake. We know this. But our conscience doesn’t really bother us about watching Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers (which neither really contain any sexual content).

I’ve noticed that Baptist preachers can mention Saving Private Ryan during a sermon to drive home a point and no one in the congregation thinks twice. We’ll overlook the vulgar language and bloody deaths in the name of war. Yes, it’s violent. But it’s war.

The point: Even Baptist preachers don’t mind violence, as long as it’s associated with war. I know this because I’ve been in the congregation enough to hear it. But if a movie was rated “R” for any other reason than war violence, it would be taboo for the preacher to admit he even saw the movie.

I get it. It makes sense.

America excuses violence. But has a tough time with the other stuff.

Now that I’ve established that America is okay with violence, I will quote Michael Tucker. He is the producer of the 2004 war documentary film, Gunner Palace, which shows the everyday lives of soldiers fighting in Iraq. This film is unique in that it received a “PG-13” rating, despite it’s 42 uses of the f-word and brutal violence and imagery. Tucker had to appeal the MPAA because of course they originally rated his film “R”:

“When a little girl was running down the road in South Vietnam, burnt by Napalm and she’s naked, is that PG? Is it PG-13? Is it R? You can’t rate reality.”

Great quote. I’ve seen the exact photograph he’s referring to. It’s awful. And I’ve seen even more hellish pictures from The Rape of Nanking during World War II, when Japan occupied China, raping all females and killing all men they could find in that city.

That can’t be rated. It’s so worse than “R”. Worse than NC-17. Yet those photographs can easily be found in Wikipedia or in any History section in a Borders or Barnes and Noble. It’s not fiction. It’s not art. It’s reality.

Michael Tucker is right: You can’t rate reality.


In the back of my mind I’ve always wondered what my life would be rated if it were a movie. The question is, how would my life not be rated “R”? Just considering an average workday. Even on a tame day, I know the language I hear around me would be rated “R”. As it definitely was in high school.

I guess I’ve always thought it’s ironic to hear a handful of f-words in a movie and know the movie is rated “R” because of the language itself. Hearing that language has become normal to me. Which of course defeats the whole idea of certain words being vulgar. When they’re common, they can’t truly be as vulgar as we let ourselves believe.

One of my biggest reasons not to use profanity is for that very reason. It just seems cliche to me. I can’t bring myself to do it.

Yet watching a movie than contains a few f-words is at least a little bit offensive and shocking. Why? Because it’s not in real life? Isn’t there a double standard somewhere in there?

Why, in real life, is it not a big deal to us?

Because it’s not real. Watching it happen to someone else in a movie makes it worse. It’s magnified. We pay closer attention. We’ll except it in real life, though.

It’s a funny thought.  To give a movie rating to real life.  Especially your own.

Related post by the same author:

Mixed Reviews  http://wp.me/pxqBU-2y

The Ball  http://wp.me/pxqBU-fv

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on this, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one