October 13, 2008
I consider myself the biggest skeptic in the world. But I’ve gotten myself in trouble for describing my experiences with a self-described psychic, and with something called affirmations, where you write your goals daily. (See the last chapter of my book The Dilbert Future.) In both cases I thought I was writing about the limits of perception, and frankly just trying to entertain, but it was widely interpreted by hardcore skeptics as “He believes in magic.” Oops.
For the record, I don’t believe in ESP or magic. But I do believe our perceptions are interpretations of a reality that is too complex for a human brain to process. And so sometimes when your brain tries to incorporate an inconsistency into its interpretation, the result can look like magic. And if you tell me that isn’t just as good as actual magic, we could have a long discussion. It’s like the difference between thinking you are happy versus being happy. I call that a tie.
With that context, I feel safe in telling you that I have had regular glimpses of my future throughout my life. If I believed in psychic powers, these experiences would fit that model perfectly. But since I don’t, let’s agree you can label it selective memory or whatever you like.
I had the first glimpse of my future when I was about eight years old. I saw an article about a cartoonist who was doing okay for himself, a guy named Charles Schulz. I remember looking at his picture and feeling that was my future job. The sensation was different from wanting or hoping. I wanted and hoped for lots of fantastic things, but I have only had one vision of my future career. And as I spent the next 20 or so years working on a more traditional career path, I never shook the feeling that I was supposed to be a cartoonist. It always felt like I was fighting destiny.
One day in my senior year at Hartwick College, in Oneonta New York, I woke up from a sound sleep, sat upright, and saw myself living in San Francisco. This was a seemingly random choice because I had never been to California, didn’t know anyone in San Francisco, and didn’t know anything about the city.
A few months later, I asked my economics professor what company I should try to join after graduation and he tossed a brochure in front of me for Crocker Bank, headquartered in San Francisco. He explained that they were doing lots of innovative things with technology, and they were the future. That wasn’t enough to convince me, and after graduation I went to visit my brother in LA. Meanwhile, an ex-girlfriend had moved to San Francisco and invited me up for the weekend to visit. I went, liked what I saw (of the city), and on Monday morning I walked into a branch of Crocker Bank and got a job as a teller. I’ve lived in the Bay Area since.
Another college vision (or false memory) involved me standing in front of huge crowds of people, giving some sort of speech. The details were sketchy, but I knew the crowds were there to see me. This vision conflicted somewhat with my vision of becoming a cartoonist. I figured it was either one or the other. You don’t draw comics in front of huge crowds.
One day, a few years into my cartooning career, I got a call from an oil consortium in Canada, asking if I would give a speech to their small group of twenty or so members. They offered $5,000 plus travel expenses. I said yes, went and spoke to them for an hour, and cashed my check. But the phone kept ringing and the crowds got bigger. One of the last events I did, before losing my voice, was an audience of about 15,000 people in Vegas. My opening act was a traveling branch of the Cirque du Soleil. I remember standing on stage, spotlights in my eyes, while the opening applause thundered, thinking this is just how I saw it.
People often asked me if I was nervous on stage in front of huge crowds. I wasn’t. It felt like I was supposed to be there. Likewise, people ask if it is hard to produce comics on deadline. It isn’t. This feels like what I am supposed to be doing.
I was thinking about these things because my book, Dilbert 2.0: Twenty Years of Dilbert is just out. I included in the book the story of how I used affirmations to achieve my goals (not magic). And I included the comics I previously showed only to live audiences during my speaking years. Those are the comics too edgy for publication, plus the ones that got published and got me in trouble. If you know anyone who saw me speak, they can tell you what to expect.
Physically, the book is beautiful. The publisher did a terrific job. It’s ten pounds of the best Dilbert comics ever, according to me, with a disk to give you the entire 20 years of Dilbert comics. This is the best product I will ever be associated with. If you have a Dilbert fan in your circle, do him a favor. Here’s a link: