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How I Made Friends With Reality: Emily Levine (Transcript)

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Emily Levine

Following is the full transcript of Humorist and trickster Emily Levine’s TED Talk: How I Made Friends With Reality. 


Listen to the MP3 Audio: How I made friends with reality by Emily Levine at TED Talk



I’m going to first tell you something that in my grandmother would’ve elicited a five-oy alarm: “Oy-oy-oy-oy-oy”.  And here it is. Are you ready? OK.

I have stage IV lung cancer. Oh, I know, “poor me.” I don’t feel that way. I’m so OK with it. And granted, I have certain advantages – not everybody can take so cavalier an attitude; I don’t have young children. I have a grown daughter who’s brilliant and happy and wonderful.

I don’t have huge financial stress. My cancer isn’t that aggressive. It’s kind of like the Democratic leadership – not convinced it can win. It’s basically just sitting there, waiting for Goldman Sachs to give it some money.

Oh, and the best thing of all – I have a major accomplishment under my belt. Yes, I didn’t even know it until someone tweeted me a year ago. And here’s what they said: “You are responsible for the pussification of the American male.” Not that I can take all the credit, but…

But what if you don’t have my advantages? The only advice I can give you is to do what I did: make friends with reality. You couldn’t have a worse relationship with reality than I did. From the get-go, I wasn’t even attracted to reality. If they’d had Tinder when I met reality, I would have swiped left and the whole thing would have been over.

And reality and I — we don’t share the same values, the same goals. To be honest, I don’t have goals; I have fantasies. They’re exactly like goals but without the hard work. I’m not a big fan of hard work, but you know reality – it’s either push, push, push, push, push through its agent, the executive brain function — one of the “yays” of dying: my executive brain function won’t have me to kick around anymore.

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But something happened that made me realize that reality may not be reality. So what happened was, because I basically wanted reality to leave me alone – but I wanted to be left alone in a nice house with a Wolf range and Sub-Zero refrigerator, private yoga lessons — I ended up with a development deal at Disney.

And one day I found myself in my new office on Two Dopey Drive which reality thought I should be proud of. And I’m staring at the present they sent me to celebrate my arrival — not the Lalique vase or the grand piano I’ve heard of other people getting, but a three-foot-tall, stuffed Mickey Mouse with a catalog, in case I wanted to order some more stuff that didn’t jive with my aesthetic.

And when I looked up in the catalog to see how much this three-foot-high mouse cost, here’s how it was described: “Life-sized.” And that’s when I knew Reality wasn’t “reality.” Reality was an imposter. So I dived into quantum physics and chaos theory to try to find actual reality, and I’ve just finished a movie — yes, finally finished — about all that, so I won’t go into it here, and anyway, it wasn’t until after we shot the movie, when I broke my leg and then it didn’t heal, so then they had to do another surgery a year later, and then that took a year — two years in a wheelchair, and that’s when I came into contact with actual reality: limits.

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