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On Day 30 (Wednesday), Rachelle and I decided to finish strong, so we spent a full 16 hours at Disneyland. I was really tired at the end, but it felt good to finally cross the finish line.
The next morning (Thursday) we met a friend for breakfast at Whole Foods and then drove home to Vegas. I was delighted to see the lights of the Vegas Strip as we came in, knowing that those lights weren’t the lights of Disneyland.
During the last 4-5 days of the experiment, I got a cold, and I’m still recovering from it. That’s why I didn’t post any new blog entries during the last week. Fortunately the illness was mild, so I was still able to spend many hours at Disneyland each day without missing any days. Some of those days were really exhausting though. At one point I even took a nap in the Tiki Room while all the birds and flowers were singing. Rachelle had to wake me up when it was over.
After spending a whole month in a fantasy environment, real life doesn’t seem quite as real yet. There was so much packed into these 30 days that it overwhelms my analytical mind to think about it. There were layers upon layers of lessons. It may take me a while to feel grounded again.
It’s almost hard to fathom that Christmas is still a month away. At Disneyland it’s been Christmas every day. It’s like I spent a month in a timeless world, and now I’m trying to transition back to a world where the clock ticks forward and the calendar has meaning. Part of me worries that it’s going to be Christmas forever.
There are two things I’m especially grateful for: the chance to eat healthier food and the opportunity to be away from all the loud music and screaming. I really appreciate the quietude of my Vegas neighborhood, but my ears are still ringing a bit, probably from the constant exposure to Disneyland’s noises. My hearing isn’t as good as it was at the start of this experiment, so I hope my ears recover.
It feels strange not being surrounded by hordes of people today. I feel almost naked away from the crowds now. This might sound strange, but part of my mind is simulating being in a big crowd with lots of people passing by, even as I type this. It’s like when you drive for too many hours in a row, and then when you finally stop driving, you can still see the road racing towards you when you close your eyes. Some part of my brain is still simulating the experience of being at Disneyland.
During the last ten or so days of this experience, I really began to see how the different pieces of Disneyland come together. I saw how the shows and parades arouse emotions in people with respect to the Disney characters, and then people buy loads of merchandise based on those characters in the nearby gift shops. By the end of the experiment, when doing Disneyland had become my daily routine, the experience felt less fun and spontaneous to me and more engineered.
As I began to see this, I got less caught up in the emotional aspects of the place. I largely stopped going on rides for fun, and I began studying them in different ways. What was the purpose of each attraction from Disney’s perspective? How was it designed to shift people’s emotions? Which gift shops or food stands were we directed towards after each ride? What did Disney expect me to do next?
I dare say that in the past 30 days, I saw more obese and morbidly obese people than I ever have in any prior 30-day period of my life, including entire families. That’s because I saw more people in general during those days.
Lots of people seemed to waddle around the park, shifting their heavy bodies from side to side to get around instead of walking like a healthy human. Sometimes I tried walking that way to see what it was like, but Rachelle made me stop.
Many overweight people used electric wheelchairs to get around, perhaps because they lack the stamina to walk all day. I saw obese couples wheelchairing their way around the park together. One of them had to reserve a restaurant table for four people since they couldn’t fit their personal vehicles at a table for two.
It seems like the world of Wall-E, where obese humans are wheeled from entertainment to food and back, is already here.
Of course Disneyland has adapted to the growing obesity epidemic, such as by putting fewer people on the boat-based rides to accommodate the heavier loads. Sometimes when getting off a ride, I’d see 20+ people lined up at the exit – i.e. those in wheelchairs and their parties. I found it interesting that Disneyland rewards its wheelchair-bound guests by giving them shorter lines, and apparently obesity is just another disability. Many rides also have special cars designed to accommodate wheelchairs, so people can take the whole wheelchair on the ride with them.
In general I found that Disneyland basically tries to hide the ugly parts of society. On multiple occasions, I saw cast members redirecting traffic around unpleasantness, such as a child who vomited. They don’t tell you what happened or why you’re being rerouted. They just tell you to go this way instead of that way. Sometimes they effectively form a human shield around a problem, so it’s hard to even see it. I think of them as guardians of the fantasy. Whenever something happened that could disturb the fantasy, such as a woman sitting on the curb receiving medical attention, I saw these guardians pop up and divert traffic, as if to say, “Keep moving… nothing to see here.” It reminds me of how Monstropolis reacts when a child gets into their world in Monsters, Inc.
I sense it must be a real challenge for Disney to maintain its fantasy-based business within the world of real human beings, but they seem to be pretty adept at hiding that which would break the fantasy.
Dream Big, Princess
One morning when Rachelle and I were queuing in the security screening line – all guests have to undergo mandatory bag searches just to enter the park each day – we saw a girl wearing a backpack with a couple of Disney princesses on it and the words Dream Big. We wondered what that was supposed to mean. Are girls supposed to dream of someday becoming princesses? Are they supposed to dream big like a princess does? What exactly is a big dream for a princess?
On many days when Rachelle would enter the park, the ticket checker would call her Princess. However, no one ever called me Prince. If they called me anything at all, they’d call me Steve because my name is written on my annual pass. Sometimes the same employee would call me Steve, and then he’d call Rachelle Princess. Rachelle can’t recall if a female employee ever called her Princess, but she knows a lot of male employees called her that.
The only time I was called anything other than Steve was when one ticket checker called me Jedi. When I told Rachelle that, and later on she got called Princess by a different employee, she said she’d prefer to be a Jedi. The guy seemed amused.
Many girls wore princess costumes in the park. Elsa costumes were especially popular. There’s an area in the Disneyland castle where girls can get their hair and makeup done to look like Disney princesses. We’d see them come out looking all sparkly. I couldn’t find any equivalent place in the park where boys were converted into princes, however.
During our 30 days, Rachelle and I found a number of lost items, including two wallets, a purse with a wallet and cell phone, car keys, a backpack, an earring, and probably a few other items I forgot. In each case we gave the items to a nearby employee and asked them to put it in lost and found, and they assured us they would. In one case we were able to find the owner of a wallet shortly after she left it behind, so we returned it to her directly. She was relieved and grateful… and perhaps a bit shocked that she almost left her wallet on top of a Fastpass machine.
Hopefully the other lost items will find their way back to their owners. Disney has a lost and found section at the front of the park (but outside of it), which often has a very slow-moving line. I can only imagine how many lost items they have to process each day.
In the final days, my feelings about the experience kept oscillating between disappointment and hope. I saw plenty during these 30 days to make me fret about humanity’s future. On multiple occasions I wondered how intelligent this human species really is… and if I really want to be associated with it. It seemed like the Disney corporation was just manipulating people’s emotions for profit, and most people didn’t seem to notice or care. Many Disney properties promote the idea that if you’re dumb and naive but kind-hearted, just focus on being emotional and taking risks, and everything will work out okay. Of course such a lifestyle is more likely to lead to a wheelchair than a princess-like existence, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Plenty of people still want more.
I could also bemoan the fact that people are spending so much money on Disney-branded, Chinese-made trinkets and health-damaging junk food instead of on their education and self-development. But the flip side is that if people are willing to do this sort of thing, it points to massive opportunities as well. If Disney can get people thinking that a $20 Mickey Mouse Xmas ornament or a $35 Star Wars T-shirt is a good value – not to mention a $100+ admission ticket – then there must still be vast opportunities for starting businesses that provide people with more intelligent sources of value.
I ended up feeling really judgmental about certain aspects of society but also really grateful that I don’t have to engage with those aspects on a daily basis for the rest of my life. I think that if I continued to remain in that environment though, I could easily end up feeling depressed, jaded, and hopeless. But by diving into it and stepping back out again, I mostly feel inspired.
I feel especially lucky that the bulk of my normal communication (outside of this Disney experience) is with smart, growth-oriented people who want to make a positive difference in the world. I love and appreciate these people even more now.
30 Days with a Partner
This was a rare time when I did a 30-day experience with a partner, in this case my girlfriend Rachelle. Most of the time when I do a 30-day trial, I do it alone. But as Rachelle reminded me, I wouldn’t have done this one alone. Spending 30 days at Disneyland by myself seems like it would have been pretty dull, so this was intended from the get-go as a couple experience.
It’s hard to say how this experience may have affected our relationship. It was a truly odd thing to do together, and I’m grateful to have a partner who’s willing to do this sort of thing with me. We had some moments along the way when we each started to crack a little from the sheer insanity of what we were doing, especially in the Day 10-20 range, but mostly these resulted in giggle attacks where everything seemed absurd and nonsensical. Once we reached the point where the remaining days were down to single digits, it seems a lot easier to make it to the end.
We packed in so much during those 30 days that the whole thing is a bit of a blur. We’ll have to review our photos just to remind ourselves of some of the details. I think it’s a cool reference experience to have gone through such an unusual stretch experience together.
I must add that we’re both really looking forward to some relatively quiet, non-Disney time together for the rest of the year. Neither of us intend to renew our annual passes when they expire next month, even though Disney is offering a small discount for doing so – not quite 6% off. Even if they offered it for 75% off, I wouldn’t want to renew.
Could I handle going to Disneyland again? I don’t intend to return anytime soon, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility. Maybe if they changed a lot of it and I got curious to see how it was continuing to evolve, I might consider it. But I think I’ll take 2017 off at the very least.
Because Disneyland is clearly designed to be an emotional experience, one of the biggest shifts I experienced from spending a full 30 days there was to reassess my own relationship with emotion. When I saw how Disney deftly manipulated emotion like the puppeteer at the beginning of the Pinocchio ride, I began paying more attention to my own emotions and how Disney was trying to trigger me to feel a certain way.
This was like a form of meditation, but instead of observing my thoughts, I observed my feelings and the triggers that gave rise to them. The more I observed my feelings, the less they seemed to influence my behavior.
For instance, it was fun for a while to keep raising my Astro Blasters score. My personal best during the 30 days was 984,500. But after a while I stopped caring, and it didn’t matter what my score was. One time I put the gun down and didn’t bother shooting after a while. I just observed the other players instead.
On our last night there, we watched the World of Color light and fountain show. I watched the various Disney characters flashing by in animated scenes with booming Disney music. I saw the giant Mickey Mouse behind the water, probably placed there deliberately to help people associate these emotions with one of Disney’s most recognized brands. But mostly I observed the crowd. I watched and listened as people oohed and aahed. And I thought, Wow… Disney really owns these people. The level of submission is impressive.
I left having a changed relationship with my own emotions. After being blasted with so much emotionalism for a month, the oversaturation seems to have brought me to a new place of emotional calm. I’m not sure if this will last, but presently I feel less motivated by the desire for emotional stimulation now.
This experience invited me to look at how much of my life was driven by emotional conditioning. Every toy I’ve ever owned, every TV show or movie I watched, any album I bought – they’re all driven by emotionalism and the desire for stimulation.
I’m not sure where this will lead yet. Like many transformational experiences, this one will probably take some time to sink in. I feel very centered now, and I have strong motivation to dive into other goals. But this time the motivation feels different. I feel less interested in the emotional stimulation of the goals and more drawn to the learning process and the results that can be achieved.
This was not an easy experiment, and I was on the fence about it for a long time, but now that it’s over, I’m glad I did it. I find that by exploring the extremes of life, I learn a lot about myself because those extremes squeeze and bend me in ways that I’m not used to being squeezed and bent, causing hidden lessons to emerge.