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What’s the most resilient parasite? An idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.

This is the core premise of Christopher Nolan‘s new blockbuster Inception. I saw it last night. Inception is big, thrilling, mind-bending, and smart. (Smart for a blockbuster, I mean). I’d say it’s this decade’s Matrix. Watch the trailer on YouTube here, so you know what we’re talking about.

Let’s get into each other’s minds, deep into the subconscious. Let’s lucid dream for profit or power. Meh, who cares about profit or power but it certainly would be fun to walk about inside other people’s heads. (Being John Malkovich, anyone?)

Waking Life is a trip

I have long been fascinated by dream life. We spend one-third of our lives in another plane of existence where pretty much anything goes – we can fly, shape shift, jump through time and space, make love to strangers, murder friends, give speeches, eat muffins, become unicorns, climb mountains, escape the law, talk to dead relatives, or play drums in our favourite bands. We become masters of our own bizarre universes each night, and then we wake up and go to work and barely think about it until the next night’s epic adventure, battle, or love story begins.

That begs contemplation surely. What are dreams? And are we certain we can tell the difference between the “real” world and the dream world? This question, too, is raised in Inception.

In honour of the blessed state of dreaming, I present you my list of 5 great musings on dream life:

1. Waking Life (2001)
Oh man, this film is a mind-bender. It will rip open your cranium, poke around, expose all the flaws in our waking state, and leave you panting for more. Our protagonist shuffles around talking to eccentrics and philosophers about waking life and dream states, asking ever more provoking questions of himself and his reality. It was animated over real-life footage to become a dreamy trip through a beautiful and interesting world. I have used the light switch trick a number of times now, just to check. Watch the trailer here, seriously it is one of the best films you will find, both cool and smart.

Borges loved to blur the distinction between dream and reality

2. The Circular Ruins by Jorge Luis Borges
This short story from Borges’ Ficciones collection is haunting and truly beautiful. “The purpose which guided him was not impossible, though supernatural. He wanted to dream a man; he wanted to dream him in minute entirety and impose him on reality.” Is that not the dream of every writer?

3. Mulholland Drive (2001)
It’s just a dream. Another bizarre, perverse dream from the mind of David Lynch. Watch the trailer to get a taste. Be warned though, it’s a head scratcher. I had to watch it twice to even begin to understand it.

4. The Interpretation of Dreams, and On Dreams by Sigmund Freud
Freudian psychoanalysis applied to dreams which, according to the good doctor, provide a direct view of one’s subconscious. It’s all about wish-fulfillment and conflict resolutions supposedly. Interesting reading.

5. Inception (2010)
Multi-level lucid dreaming = fun.

Have any of you read or watched anything interesting on the topic that you can recommend?

And tell me, have you dreamed any big dreams lately?

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A few years ago I read The Right to Write, Julia Cameron‘s open invitation and initiation into the Writing Life. The book is designed to help you unlock your own creative channels and unblock the barriers to your own productivity and writing life. I really enjoyed the book and it certainly got the juices flowing. I’ve just unpacked it from my storage boxes and plan to reread it soon.

Of late I have been sifting through my old journals while working on my travel memoirs. I discovered a list I made when completing one of Cameron’s chapter-end “initiation” exercises. This activity was about unlocking happiness. Julia explains:

Although our negative mythology around writing tells us that writers are often depressed and tormented creatures, the truth is that too much torment and too much depression can make it as difficult to write as to make the bed, wash the dishes, do the laundry. To the depressed person, writing may present itself as one more chore. For this reason, we are actually working on our writing when we directly address the larger issue of our happiness.

List fifty things that make you happy.

Happiness is not only a mood. It is a decision. Writing our list of happinesses causes us to see how simple some forms of joy are, how we can make ourselves happy in simple ways. When the blues set in, the simple act of listing joys can help elicit some.

Here’s my list. The first 25 are from the list I wrote 5 years ago, the last 25 are from today:

1. A pohutukawa in full bloom

1. A pohutukawa in full bloom
2. Travel documentaries
3. Jane Austen novels
4. Writing
5. Xanadu (still the best film I have ever seen, by far)
6. Walking in the fresh air
7. My friends and family
8. Mangos
9. Singing along when Dad plays the guitar
10. Places with a heavy sense of history
11. People with hidden talents
12. Free summer concerts in parks
13. Laughing so much my belly aches
14. Wes Anderson films (for example, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou)
15. Finding toast left over from breakfast in the afternoon – mmmm, the strange deliciousness of cold toast
16. Kicking a rugby ball around in the park with friends
17. Avocado and tomato on 5-grain toast
18. Achievable busy-ness
19. Inspirational quotes

35. Bold, colourful tattoos

20. Soft rain – the kind that moistens your skin without getting you wet
21. The smell of sunblock on your skin
22. My friend Claire’s “do the dance of…” game
23. Playing pool with my grandfather in his snooker room
24. Vintage clothes
25. Seeing people in love

26. Writing (and receiving) old-fashioned, snail-mail letters
27. The smell of Queen of the Night
28. My friend Frank
29. A strong, black coffee in the early morning
30. Dancing Salsa and Bachata
31. Intimate conversations with strangers you meet while travelling
32. Having a job that makes a positive difference in the world
33. Pasteles en Hoja and mango milkshakes at Amable Restaurant in San Pedro de Macoris
34. Jorge Luis Borges
35. Bold, colourful, confident tattoos
36. Antique photos of strangers
37. Monkeys
38. Latin America and the Caribbean
39. Cougar Town (a very guilty pleasure)

49. Jump photography

40. Dancing in the streets
41. Riding in the back of pick-up trucks
42. Children
43. Ideas that almost hurt your brain to think about
44. Buddhist philosophy
45. Modern dance
46. Connecting with fellow writers through the blogosphere
47. Perfect, shining moments when you feel you might pop just at the thrill of being alive
48. Carrot cake
49. Jump photography
50. The number eleven

It really works! I feel better just thinking about those things.

What would be on your own list of happy things?

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Just finished reading Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, a satirical tale of a socially awkward vacuum cleaner salesman in pre-revolution Havana who is enlisted by the British Secret Service. A neat and very funny story, I recommend it for a rainy day. (If you want to know more about the book itself try reading tobedwithatrollope’s quite thorough review)

What I loved most about the book was simply it’s setting – in the warm, beating heart of Cuba’s capital. I love Havana, I really do. I loved revisting her famous streets and sipping daquaris in her famed night-spots along with the books protagonist, Mr. Wormold. My oh my, I really miss the place (and the amazing friends I made there)… might be a vacation on the horizon, methinks.

How could you not love a town with this much crumbling and simplistic charm:

Habana Vieja (Old Havana), Cuba

Have you been to Havana? Did she charm you too?

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I recently finished one of the most moving stories I have ever read – Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer. Always fascinating, often moving, the book is captivating from the first line to the last, and I frequently found myself weeping (occasionally even crying out right) as I read (this was pretty embarrassing at times as I often read out and about in the world). I wept for the emotion, beauty, and sadness of the story. But it’s certainly not all sad, many of my tears sprung from the love (of nature, of fellow man) expressed by the tale.

Self-portrait of Chris McCandless - he died of starvation in this bus within weeks of this photo being taken

Into The Wild chases 23 year old Chris McCandless through his last two years on the planet. In 1990 McCandless walked away from his money, family, life, and possessions and wandered off into the world, travelling and adventuring about, meeting amazing folk, until he finally made it to Alaska two years later where he walked into the wild to live off the land for a few months and, due to a handful of bad decisions and unfortunate luck, starved to death.

Interspersed throughout the narrative progression are interviews with people whose hearts were touched by McCandless in those years, stories of other young adventurers who challenged themselves thus (some met with success, others with death), and a harrowing and inspirational account of the author’s own psychological and physical battle in his attempt to summit a daunting Alaskan peak.

What I enjoyed most of all was the angle of exploring one’s own humanity and the possibility for peaceful coexistence between human nature and mother nature. “Into the wild” is McCandless’ echoing call. My own is similar but instead of searching the great out there I hope to branch out into the wild interior of my own nature.

As an aside, I recently included the Sean Penn’s cinematic adaptation of Into The Wild in a post about movies to ignite your wanderlust. The film is magnificent.

I would argue that the book is even better. I loved it because it made me feel. I didn’t agree with everything McCandless thought, felt, said, or did but I admire him because he believed something strongly and acted emphatically on his beliefs.

Book Diva loved it too, while Lisa from Books on the Brain had mixed emotions about it and found it hard to relate to McCandless. This seems to be a book (and a character and a lifestyle for that matter) that polarises – you either love it or hate it.

Even the way Krakauer presents the story and examines McCandless seems to be contentious. On the one hand Erin Berman questions Krakauer’s objectivity, while Terrence Cantarella defends the book and says that Krakauer “has crafted a non-fiction book as inspiring, moving, and artful as the best works of fiction. He has offered up a real-world story of physical and spiritual escape, a bold tale of adventure, and a quest for something unseen.”

Have you read it? If so, I would love to hear how it impacted you emotionally and what you thought of it.

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I love interacting with my favourite books

It’s confession time. Warning: you might not want to read what I’m about to write. Ready? I like writing in books. I underline passages, write questions to the author, scribble my own reflections, and sketch symbols next to amusing parts, lines that have moved me, or remarkable ideas.

Many people feel funny about writing in books, believing it to be a kind of desecration. I respectfully disagree. For me, writing in my favourite friends is a way to enter into dialogue with the greats, a way to personalise the reading experience, and to convert my books into treasures I will hold onto for a lifetime.

Does anyone else write in their books?

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This post follows on from yesterday’s post (lessons 1 – 14 of 29 lessons i’ve learned so far) in celebration of my 29th birthday…

In my fifteenth year I learned that if you tell a boy your friend likes him, even if she really does and even if he likes her back and they then start dating, she might not talk to you again for a really long time.

I think of my grandpa every time I see an Hibiscus flower

In my sixteenth year I learned that old people sometimes know when they are going to die. My grandfather invited me to visit one weekend and spent the day sharing memories and giving me small gifts. He had a stroke a few days later and died the next week. I still miss that man, who taught me to play pool in the his billiards room; who let me get my curious little fingers into his amazing collection of antiques; who played hide and seek with me in his hibiscus gardens; and gave me “horsey rides” on his great, kauri knees.

In my seventeenth year I learned what it feels like to fall in love and give yourself completely to someone else, body and soul. I also learned that it hurts like a motherf#@ker to get tackled by a Tongan princess in a rugby match.

In my eighteenth year I learned how boring it is to be unemployed and that I needed an education to get a “good” job. I learned later in life that that’s pretty much bull, but still.

Catherine and Heathcliff share a dark, destructive love in Wuthering Heights

In my nineteenth year of life I learned, for the first time, how a great book can sweep you up completely. I was reading Wuthering Heights and got completely lost in that mad, brooding world, unable to sleep until I devoured each and every word.

In my twentieth year of life I learned that sometimes love ends. It just runs its course.

In my twenty-first year of life I learned that if you drink an entire 40oz. of vodka all by yourself while you’re camping out in the middle of nowhere you will do a lot of embarrassing things you’ll never remember and your boyfriend won’t sleep a wink because he will be watching you all night to make sure you don’t stop breathing.

In my twenty-second year of life I learned that I enjoy pottery but don’t have the patience to make anything good. (I made my mum an antipasto platter and caught her the next week using it as an ashtray. Nice one.)

In my twenty-third year of life I learned that it is actually possible to work four jobs at the same time, if you are a good scheduler.

In my twenty-fourth year of life I learned that if you believe in yourself and work hard enough you can get what you want.

In my twenty-fifth year of life I learned to be careful what you wish for because you might just get it. I looked around me and saw my future in the eyes of middle-managers. It was frightening. On a brighter note, I went on my first international adventure and learned instantly that I was destined to become a travel junky.

In Lack'ech: We are all one

In my twenty-sixth year of life I learned that we are all one. I also learned that if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other your legs can take you pretty much anywhere you’d care to go. Oh yeah, and I learned Spanish.

In my twenty-seventh year of life I learned that people who live on remote islands can have very strange attitudes about relationships. I also learned that children have an amazing capacity for love, forgiveness, and optimism.

In my twenty-eighth year of life I learned what it feels like to think you might die in a sweaty hostel room in Morocco while your fellow travellers smoke hashish, watch the Olympics on mute, and pay you no heed in an adjoining room. I also learned the magic of being alone in the mountains staring into eternity on a clear black night.

In my twenty-ninth year of life I learned that I am stronger than I thought. I saw death and destruction on a massive and personal scale, thought my heart would burst on several occasions, and survived a bout of malaria; but came through it smiling.

I wonder what I may learn in this, my thirtieth year of life. Perhaps not to waste people’s precious time with pointless lists about what I’ve learned? Sorry about that, I’m only twenty-nine.

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Do you ever find yourself reading a book that makes the nomadic existence seem so adventurous or that paints such a rich picture of life in some far-flung corner of the globe that it is all you can do just to hold yourself back from quitting your job, throwing a few things in a rucksack, and jumping onto the next flight into the sunset? I find myself in that situation relatively often (I am, however, a self-diagnosed travel addict).

So, for the good of travel addicts everywhere, I present the following list of 11 books that got me itching for adventure. You may use this list to (a) heighten the anticipation before an impending adventure, (b) satisfy the travel urge by living vicariously through the characters, or (c) so you know which books to avoid if you feel you wouldn’t be able to control yourself. The choice is yours.

Disclaimer: the following books are listed in no particular order and do not by any means represent a definitive list of books for travel junkies. They are just a few great stories I have read. Please feel free to use comments to add to and/or debate my list.

And so, without further kerfuffle, I present you with 11 books that will make your knees knock with desire for the road.

1. Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman (Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Israel, Galapagos Island, Indonesia, New Zealand, USA, Thailand)

Gelman spent 8 years living in Indonesia

This woman is my hero. I think this was one of the first travel books I ever read and I have been hooked ever since. After a painful divorce Rita picks herself up, dusts herself off, and high-tails it to Mexico where she is promptly mugged. Undeterred, she keeps on travelling. What follows is a sincere and sweet account of her new life as a female nomad. This story spans 15 years and 5 continents and is filled with some pretty memorable adventures. Gelman may not be a fabulous writer per se but her story is a delight.

Read a review of Tales of a Female Nomad here on the Outside of a Dog blog.

2. On The Road by Jack Kerouac (USA, Mexico)

This autobiographical account of Kerouac and his buddies criss-crossing the States in an endless driving scene of music and philosophising and tea smoking is just too cool not to love. I don’t even drive but reading this had me yearning for a good old-fashioned road trip where it’s all about the journey and who the hell cares where you end up (can anyone even remember why we were going there in the first place?)

Read a review of On The Road here on ReviewSien.

3. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Spain, Morocco, Egypt)

The story of one man searching for his personal treasure all the way from the fields of southern Spain and across the deserts of northern Africa to Egypt. There’s a great message in there for all us lost souls, but the adventure will thrill you in and of itself. It’s a popular read for a reason.

Read a review of The Alchemist here on Neha Kapoor’s blog.

4. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson (Pakistan)

K-2, Northern Pakistan

Love to travel to distant, pristine lands? Want to make a positive difference in the world? Greg does both and willingly takes you along for the ride. Mortensen is not a writer but he is an inspired and inspiring individual. I defy you not to fall in love with northern Pakistan after reading this book.

Read a review of Three Cups of Tea here on an unfinished person’s blog.

5. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Kingsolver’s fictional account of a family of American missionaries who take a post in the dark heart of the Belgian Congo (told from the point of view of each family member in turn) is captivating. I wanted to move into the African jungle right away and get married to the local schoolteacher!

Read a review of The Poisonwood Bible here on Pirate Books.

6. The Letters of Vincent van Gogh (Holland, France)

This may seem like a strange choice to some, but imagine seeing the world through the eyes of one of the most brilliant artists that has ever lived. If you have a pulse it will be racing at van Gogh’s raw and poignant descriptions of the countryside of southern France and the bleak life of toil in the fields of Holland.

Read a review of The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh from The Guardian.

7. A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins (USA)

In 1973 Peter Jenkins and his dog, Cooper, set out from New York to walk across America. That’s pretty neat, isn’t it?

Read an article about Peter Jenkins and A Walk Across America from way back in 1979 here from People magazine’s archives.

8. The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux (Honduras)

The Mosquito Coast, Honduras

Man, I wish I had had an eccentric inventor for a father, who forced us all to move to the Mosquito Coast of Honduras when we were kids. Also fiction, but I am a sucker for a story set in the jungle. It had me wanting to go back to Central America and get seriously lost!

Read a review of The Mosquito Coast here on Sohel’s blog.

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9. The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield (Peru)

I read this famous spiritual work years ago, long before I ever stepped foot on the South American continent, but I remember falling in love with the lush jungles of Peru. I wanted to pursue the prophecy along ill-beaten jungle paths, to meditate on the auras of plants, and leave my itinerary to chance and the whim of my heart. Okay, it’s a little cheesey but it is also a lot of fun.

Read a review of The Celestine Prophecy here on Spirit and Me.

10. Eight Feet in the Andes by Dervla Murphy (Peru)

This is serious travel writing territory. Murphy is a seasoned professional; she’s written a ton of books. The woman is my hero. Get this – she buys a mule and wanders off into the Andes (with her nine year old daughter in tow no less!) for a 1,300 mile journey along the length of Peru, at extreme altitude. What a legend.

Read a review of Eight Feet in the Andes here on Out Of My Mind.

11. Walden by Henry David Thoreau (USA)

Walden Pond in Massachusetts, USA

Okay, Walden may not make you want to travel per se, but I bet you will want to, at least, get out for a brisk walk in nature after reading it; or maybe sell all your possessions and hike out into the wilderness to build a hut with your own bare hands? I know I did (I mean I wanted to, I’m too lazy to actually do it, plus I’m scared of spiders).

Read a review of Walden here on Kate’s blog.

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