At dinner that night, Bubba the Love Sponge pulled out a gun from his bag and pointed it at me. It was the first time a gun had ever been pointed at me. This was last Thursday. A few hours earlier I was in his studio watching how a radio show was produced. There was a stripper peeing into a bucket in the middle of the floor. A few feet away, there was a naked blind guy in the shower with other strippers trying to get him excited. The blind guy’s dad brought him to the studio so Bubba could help him “get laid”.
All of this is to say, I’m trying to learn radio. But it seems hard. I don’t know if I have what it takes to manufacture shock. That seems to be a particular skill. To know when to take it to an extreme and to know what the limits are. I asked Bubba what the limits were because it seemed like he had none. He said, “I know my audience. They like this stripper stuff. But if the strippers started peeing in each other’s faces that would be no good.”
Every limitation limits us as an artist to some extent. I, for instance, don’t write about my extended family (although my kids and Claudia are fair game, despite their protestations and visions of future therapy sessions for my kids). And I write about dead people in my family. They don’t care. But I write about almost everything else. And sometimes my limitations go past what other people would like but I try to never harm anyone. That’s my rule #1.
I think most people, including myself, live safely within their limits. But here’s why it’s important to constantly test those limits and explore where they lie.
A) Society. Your limitations are imposed on you by society. People often ask me, “aren’t you afraid what people are going to think about you when you reveal something embarrassing?” The answer is “yes”, I am afraid. If I wasn’t afraid to begin with then I wouldn’t write the article. The article would be boring.
Exploring the edge of your fear is the only way to learn and improve and to combat the brainwashing that society (and your peers, colleagues, bosses, friends, family) constantly impose on you. How do you learn these limitations? Well, at the moment, nobody in my extended family speaks to me anymore. And my kids do: but they are forced to. And I get the occasional death threat and constant hate mail but the occasional good email, which I appreciate.
B) Business. Going past the limitations of society or your peer group can help you solve problems that nobody has looked at yet. If you are the first guy standing on unexplored territory you can put the flag down and start charging people for it. Going past my limits, going past where everyone said, “you can’t do that!” has been the only way I’ve ever been able to make a living. All my other attempts at making money within the limits of society have resulted in abysmal failure and mockery. Every day I try to brainstorm a list of business ideas that go slightly beyond the limits of whatever I thought before.
C) Your brain. It turns out that doing something different every day, something you never would’ve thought of doing (a game, asking for a raise, writing a new friend, writing an article, solving a puzzle, learning music, etc), exercises your brain. Your brain is constantly growing. From birth on. We’re the only animal where that happens. By doing something different, you are lighting up new areas of your brain, forcing the neurons and synapses to connect that never have connected before, forestalling Alzheimers and other effects of aging that rage against the brain and against future quality of life.
D) Art. The more you push at your limitations the more the world becomes your canvas. Why is it so important for the world to be a canvas? Because in between the artist and his canvas is imagination. Better to be playing in the world of imagination than stuck in a nightmare, stuck in the world of the canvas itself. Art helps people see the world in a different way. To make the world your canvas, try to think of people who you can help today. Then the world starts to shape itself according to your own limitations, instead of you being shaped by the world.
E) Yourself. Some limitations are real. I know, for instance, (through years of bad experience) that I don’t like running a company. So I won’t do that anymore. For the rest of my life? Who knows about tomorrow. But today I won’t be running any companies. I also won't run a four minute mile. Right now, I hate running.
F) Yourself, Part II. In the George Lucas movie (pre-Star Wars) THX-1138, the main character was told since birth that if he went “above ground” (everyone lived in a 1984-style world underground) that he would be burned by radiation and die a horrible death. At the end, he goes above ground and it’s beautiful. His life gets saved. Sometimes expanding your limits means you expand yourself, means you live a larger life in every way: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. In each of those categories I try to explore the limits every day. I try to go "above ground" in some way every day.
How do you explore your limits? I don’t know. I tried to figure out an easy formula for that for this article. But I only know what it’s like for me to explore my limits. I do it by:
- Questioning everything. Writing if the answers come up different than I thought. (college, home, voting, Europe, war, religion, etc)
- Writing about everything that made me feel a certain way. Or things I was ashamed of but I learned from. (failure at business, relationships, etc).
- Not being afraid to contact people “out of my league”.
- Exploring. Whether its spiritual. Or through reading. Or visiting a new place. Or going further in exercise. Or even trying to do nothing when expectations are to do something.
- Considering myself an expert in anything until proven otherwise. Often I’m proven not an expert – right where my limits are.
I watched in the studio as Bubba kept taking the scene higher and higher, breaking through everyone’s limitations: the blind guy, the strippers, the audience in front of him, his listeners. He said to me afterwards, “one of the girls had to go to the bathroom. So I thought, ‘we have a bucket in the middle of the room’. Then another girl was thirsty so of course…” And things took off from there.
Not everyone needs to push to those limits. For Bubba it’s his job.
For me, I’m just happy he didn’t pull the trigger.