Giant Kangaroos

Did you know that 15,000 years ago the American West looked like the plains of Africa?! Lions and cheetahs chased herds of horse and elephant. Camels and giant ground sloths moped around the flat lands. Imagine the American West looking like the Serengeti.

Of course that all changed when Homo Erectus arrived on the scene. We have a pretty predictable habit of elbowing all the other mammals up into the mountains.

Right now I’m on the island of Bali in Indonesia, and around here there’s no room for large mammals like Buffalo or Elephants. However, they do have Komodo dragons, which I haven’t seen yet but plan to. I can’t miss out on my only chance to see real live dinosaurs.

And this part of the world has a remarkable history of exploration and colonization.

Long before humans made it into Alaska and down into North America (around 12,000 years ago), they had already island hopped their way from Asia to Australia (around 40,000 years ago).

THOSE guys were badass. They were some of the first to develop watercraft and explore the uncharted oceans. Essentially they island hopped – from West to East – all the way across to Australia. It was a golden age of successive human population explosions. And what’s crazy is that Australia would not have been visible from where the explorers set out, which means they were just going, casting off into the sea with no idea if they’d find another island, no idea if they’d row off the last cliff of the universe.

And when they reached Australia, they found giant kangaroos, giant pythons, land-dwelling crocodiles, 400 pound ostrich-like birds. Can you imagine? All of these creatures just walking around. And the craziest part is that the animals probably weren’t scared of humans, simply because they had never seen us before. We just showed up. How could they have known?

It’s easy to mourn the loss of a world we’ll never go back to (I’d be a fool to want to live back then). But I’m grateful that I have leaned against a 2,000 year old sequoia giant. I’m grateful that I have seen the bear and moose and mountain goats, the wild oceans and the Himalayas and man’s marvelous skylines from the vantage point of an airplane window.

The Vita-mix universe tosses the earth around on it’s geological spin cycle. I’m living in a polaroid snapshot of a curious events. I’ve got history books that help me see the past, Sci-Fi books written by insanely smart minds that help me see the future, and a 15 minute yoga practice that helps me slow down and discover where on earth I’m actually standing.

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More Magic

 

Campuhan Ridge Walk in Ubud, Bali

7 million years ago, African Apes are branching into four different groups: Gorillas, Chimps, Bonobos and Humans.

4 million years ago humans are walking upright like a bunch of silly wankers.

1 or 2 million years ago Homo Erectus is found in SE Asia. The “Java Man” has literally walked out of Africa and into Europe and Asia. Holy shit! And I call myself an explorer when I fly to Paris, book a hotel, and ride the elevator up the Eiffel Tower.

200,000 years ago these Homo Erectus guys are starting to look like me. If one of those guys got a haircut and put a jacket on, they’d be able to watch Star Wars at the cinema today without causing too much trouble.

50,000 years ago, give or take, you have the sudden “Great Leap Forward.” People go from using crude stone tools to painting in caves and sewing with bird-bone needles. By 13,000 years ago we’ve populated all of the main continents except for Antarctica.

How weird that we were the ones to populate the world, and not the Apes or the Chimps or the Bonobos who all, at one time, crouched at the same exact starting line and waited for the same exact whistle to blow.

One of my favorite explanations for how humans covered the globe comes from E.O. Wilson’s book: Social Conquest of Earth. For the all the concepts that flew over my head, the one that stuck with me was “Eusociality.” It’s a biological term for a species that has an advanced social system. Ants are the poster boys for an Eusocial society. They divide labor, cooperate, store away food, look after the young. Like us, Ants have successfully spread to all the earth’s continents. (Except Anartica but who cares.)

At some point humans stopped being solo hunters and we started sitting around the fire. Some of us cooked while others hunted and others set up camp. Women were able to have more than one child, and children had more than two parents. The fire was synonymous with home; we’d leave for a time, but we’d always return to the fire. We laid awake looking at the stars. Nobody told us what was out there, what flew around up there in the cosmos, so we invented our own mythologies and passed them around the fire. The stars were brighter, the nights were longer, and there was a lot more magic back then.

Go With the Flow: Monday, August 24th

The earth spins in one direction. The mighty river does not reverse it’s course. Everyday I get a little bit older. Computers get small and faster every year.

All of these things are outside of my control. Why try and fight them?

When we orient ourselves against the natural order of things, we make life unreasonably difficult.

It’s like when a silly dog owner keeps a German Shepherd cooped up in the living room day after day. The dog won’t stop barking at cars. He won’t stop tearing things apart. It’s not the dog’s fault. He’s just trying to be himself, but the dog owner is expecting the German Shepherd to behave like a stuffed animal.

Or it’s like when a University tries to keep the boys and the girls separate from each other – to keep them from doing things that boys and girls do. The University makes it’s rules, it’s curfews, it’s laws, imposes these things with an iron fist. The problem is, those boys and girls can’t help but acting like boys and girls. No threat is great enough to counteract their nature. Those boys and girls will lie, defy, bribe, scratch, run, break windows, sneak around, devise complicated plots, stay up till all hours, perform impossible feats… they will find a way. Nobody is ever happy in this kind of scenario, neither the rule breakers or the rule makers. But the kids are just being themselves. The administrators are the ones pushing the boulder up the hill.

I guess maybe there are some battles worth fighting. But I’m not sure what they are. For this brief period of time that I’m a member of Team Universe on Planet Earth, I’d rather surf waves than fight to swim upstream.

I think this “go with the flow” advice can really help people in their everyday lives. I try to follow it myself but it isn’t easy.

There are universal trends, and there are also personal trends. Each of our unique personalities has a “flow”. We have strong currents and weak ones. We have natural tendencies that can’t be reversed.

Exercise is one of my favorite examples. We all know we should  exercise. But so few people actaully do it. Why? Because they haven’t found something they love, something they like, something that syncs with the flow of who they are as a person.

Running sucks. Lifting weights sucks. Only a small percentage of people in the world have the discipline to run on a treadmill everyday. But if we can find a sport we love, whether it’s slacklining or swimming or walking or tennis, then we won’t have to make ourselves exercise anymore. It’s a terrible cycle where we fall short on our goals, and then we feel guilty for falling short. Guilt is the second dagger, the one that kills.

It’s because we’re going against the flow, lying to ourselves that going to a gym 5 times a week isn’t so bad. It’ll never last of course.

In my relationships. In my work. In my hobbies. The way I eat and the way I sleep. I can always find areas where I’m working too hard. Where I’m going against the natural order of things. And then, instead of putting my head down and pressing on into the storm, I try to change directions to a better course.

***

Right now I’m working on my novel. That is, I’m working on the outlining and the plotting of my upcoming novel.

And whenever I get off course with the planning, whenever I fall behind, whenever I find that I’m uninterested, or that I’d rather do the dishes than work on the novel… whenever I get stuck, I try to remind myself to swim downstream again.

There’s no way I’ll ever finish a novel that I’m not excited about. I’ve tried before. It has to be something I care deeply about. It has to be drawn from my own emotional well. It has to feel like fun. Or else it’ll never work.

So that’s why I’m thinking about all this. I’m thinking about that compass that points to the magnetic center of my childhood soul. I try to go with the flow. I try to keep the needle pointed toward passion and away from work for work’s sake, at all costs.

7 Plot Types: Thursday, July 16th

Here are 7 major plot configurations, as presented by Christopher Booker in The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.

Overcoming the Monster – There is a great evil threatening the world. The Hero learns of this evil, and sets out to overcome it. At the climax, right when it looks like the Evil will overcome the hero, the hero saves the day.

Rags to Riches – The hero is surrounded by oppressive forces – the forces suppress him and mock him. Eventually the hero makes a stand and overcomes these forces. He gains riches, gets the girl, and a kingdom to boot.

The Quest – The hero learns about something important, whether it’s an artifact, a person, riches, a place, whatever. He desperately needs or wants to find this thing. He “sets out” to find it, usually with a party of companions.

Voyage and Return – The hero begins at home, where life is nice and normal. Then he travels to a land where everything is wild and unruly. Eventually, after many trials, he conquers over the madness and returns to his home. A change and a maturity has taken place in the hero.

Comedy – The Hero and the Heroine are destined to be together. But opposing forces are conspiring to keep them apart. In the end, the oppressive forces can’t hold, they are overcome, and all of the characters are shown for who they truly are. This allows the new, appropriate relationships to form.

Tragedy – The Tragic Hero is committed to his course. In the beginning things go well for him, but soon he meets frustration. Eventually things start to spiral out of the tragic hero’s control. We know the tipping point is near. When the hero finally meets his end and destruction, the world around him is freed, and rejoices.

Rebirth – Similar to tragedy, except that the tragic hero realizes his errors before it’s too late.  Usually he is aided by a friend, or a lover, or some helper who allows the hero to see the error of his ways. The story ends with change and redemption for the hero and those around him.

Booker believes that humans are story creatures, and that stories have been critical to our evolution.

He goes on to say that all of these plots, and all of their myriad variations, are relatives of the “same great basic drama,” which all have to do with mankind’s evolution as a species, and the development and integration of the mature self.