Real Life Lessons from Science Fiction

I desperately needed a night of deep relaxation and reflection. A friend and I went to the dispensary to help relieve the tension. On the walk home, I was saying how lucky we are to walk into a store and walk out with bags full of marijuana, even with his fake looking North Carolina ID.

Just a minute after saying “I love LA,” I screamed in panic. My PTSD sent an army of electrical impulses through my body with the message, “SOMETHING IS TRYING TO FUCKING KILL YOU.” This time, it was this tiny little dog that came out of nowhere and started barking at us. Still shaking a few houses down I almost jumped again at the sight of this old woman wearing a nightcap and gown, staring at us while she smoked her cigarette. I fought myself from screaming because I didn’t want to offend her. Then my friend jumped and said “OH MY GOD!…WHY?!” We started cracking up. “We aren’t even high yet and already we’re in the Twilight Zone,” I said.

We took some edibles and started searching for something to watch. I told him I wanted to watch some science fiction that makes you rethink your purpose in life. Finally, we stumbled upon this show, called Electric Dreams, based upon Philip K. Dick’s stories. Other film adaptations of his writing include Total Recall and Blade Runner. We knew we made the right choice after the opening, which shows trippy images such as a flying robot stingray and a pregnant man. The high commenced and we started to sink into the couch. Feeling detached from our bodies, our consciousness stared at the screen, our minds wide open to the universe’s messages.

Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams Poster

The first episode, “Real Life”, is broadly based on Dick’s short story Exhibit Piece, which begs the question what is reality? “Real Life” imparts a lesson much deeper and more personal than I was mentally prepared for.

The episode has you trying to figure out which character is real and who is a subconscious creation stemmed from a new virtual reality device, which allows you to “vacation” from your troubles. In one reality, Sarah, played by Anna Paquin, is a lesbian supercop suffering from PTSD ever since her colleague was killed. In the other reality, George, brilliantly portrayed by Terrence Howard, is also tormented by trauma and sorrow after the brutal murder of his wife.

The show was only 50 minutes but it felt like hours we were consumed by attempts to differentiate reality from delusion. George and Sarah both doubt their realities and start to wonder if the “vacation” is real life. When Sarah’s girlfriend starts talking about guilt and what she thinks she deserves, I said “Oh God, are they really going there. Is this going to be about self-abuse and victim mentality? I just can’t handle that right now.” Then Sarah lays down and slowly puts on the virtual reality device. I start to cry somewhere deep inside.

“Is she gonna off herself?” my friend says in an overdramatic voice, “What the hell is going on?!”

I pretend to scream, “I don’t know what’s real anymore!”

*Spoilers Ahead*

We then find out George was having an affair on his wife when she was murdered, and therefore decides to destroy the headset that would allow him to go into his virtual reality. He says he deserves to be punished. After he crushes the headset, the screen shows Sarah flatlining in a hospital. In the alternate reality, she justified her guilt by making up the affair. Her girlfriend says,

“We all want to be punished, even if our sins don’t exist.”

Suddenly I felt overcome with guilt for my guilt. We all do this to some extent, some more than others. This message has been coming to me in many forms lately, STOP PUNISHING YOURSELF. I have suffered countless traumas in my life, but THEY ARE OVER. No one is hurting me now, no one but myself. I survived those voices telling me I’m not worth the air I breathe, and I escaped them, but they follow me, and now those voices have become my own.

I have this overwhelming fear that things will never get better, that others will always sore above me and leave me rotting in ashes.

The only one who wants me to fail is me. I am getting what I think I deserve.

I do deserve happiness. I deserve success, I deserve to reach my highest potential. I deserve to be recognized for my attributes. I deserve love, true love. I deserve to be loved the way I love others, with my entire being. I deserve a family, a family who deserves me. I deserve wealth and I deserve my health.

We always make things so complicated. We make excuses for our failure, “It’s because I have no money, it’s because I have no support. I can’t do that until this happens.”

All you need to get what you deserve is truly believe you deserve it. The virtual reality system in “Real Life” is a symbol for the power of the mind.

So push every negative thought out, let go of every lie you’ve been told about yourself and continue to tell:

You can’t.

You aren’t.

You won’t.

And replace it with the truth:

You can

You are.

You will.

Because they are the things holding you back, more than society, inequality, your health, or your finances. They and they alone are what divides you from your destiny. They are what will destroy you if you give them that power.

You are your worst enemy, you are the only one holding you captive from your dreams, from living a life you a proud of. The life you deserve.

“Hope is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all -”

-Emily Dickinson


LA Eloi

Her glowing, porcelain face protruded from the brick background, then faded into the blue stage lights. Every stroke of her features, handmade with care. She hasn’t been used much, barely taken out of the box. Too afraid of damage, she’s fragile. So fragile, if you bumped into her on the street, she might shatter like china.

You see, even to hold her is to warp her unscathed skin. If she touches too much, her hands will blister and crack. Every step calluses her feet. Don’t you want her to be soft? If she has to worry about anything, or if you make her sad, or mad, crevices will carve themselves into her forehead.  And if she loses sleep, craters will nap under her eyes, endlessly taunting her. Don’t you want her to be pretty?  

She was Weena*, daughter of a famous Hollywood actress and musician. Now it’s her turn to become the star she was primed to be. She stood before us, not as a woman proudly owning her destiny, but as someone who just realized she was naked in front of a crowd. Her bones glued at the joints, she was petrified.

Her voice was beautiful. Her songs were simple but catchy. Melodic runs really showcased her expansive range. We all rocked and swayed to the feel-good beats. But there was something missing, passion.

Passion comes from suffering. What revolutionary painter or poet never had to struggle too much? I believe art has the power to transform the world. How can you heal if you’ve never been torn apart by life’s shrapnel, and then had to lick your wounds, and limp away with your tail between your legs?

Like an Eloi from H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, her environment never presented many challenges. Therefore, she knew how to enjoy life, but not overcome obstacles, endure pain. Poor Weena was paralyzed by her fear: fear of being exposed, fear of looking stupid, fear of failing. The only time she looked at ease was after her set while dancing with her celebrity friends.

Woman in yellow and blue with a guitar, by Henri Matisse

She has the disorienting beauty, decorated in ornate garments, encompassed by the faces of Hollywood’s past, present, and future elite. She even has the voice, but she lacks courage and she lacks affliction.

She has had every opportunity at her disposal, dancing then acting, now singing…but I wonder had she not, would she have the grit it would take an average person?

I always wondered what my life would have been like if I had half of the opportunities Weena has. What if my mom could have afforded the voice lessons I begged her for each birthday? What if I grew up in safe, loving home? What if I wasn’t at constant war with myself, battling the voice in my head echoing “you’ll never be good enough?”

What would I write about without my struggles? What painful memories would I channel when I performed? How could I teach lessons I haven’t learned? How could I help those who are suffering, if I’ve never suffered? How can I change the world, if I am blind to its problems?

Ironically, all of my talents would vanish with my struggles.

Just because you have all of the advantages, doesn’t mean you can cash them in, or even know how to. You may have an audience, power and influence, and nothing to say, no wisdom to share. Or in my case, have plenty to say, but no voice to speak it with, and no one to listen.  But let me just say this, I do believe in the power of passion, and the impact of endurance. 

Given the option, I’d choose adversity every time. 

*The artist’s name has been changed.

“It is a law of nature we overlook, that intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger, and trouble. An animal perfectly in harmony with its environment is a perfect mechanism. Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no need of change.”-H.G. Wells, The Time Machine