I’m joined today by Christina Dylag, author of the new book, Tiny Little Boxes: How to Cope with Existential Dread by Way of Ice Cream and Other Means. If that title alone doesn’t compel you to listen, I should also mention that there’s potentially the offer for actual ice cream involved in this interview.
Christina is the co-owner of Velveteen Rabbit, an award-winning craft cocktail bar in Las Vegas. It’s been written about by everyone from the New York Times to Bon Appetite, but this book isn’t about that. Instead, Christina discusses a topic she’s very passionate about, which is how we can follow our own dreams to find fulfillment, instead of settling for a destiny carved out by someone else.
In her new book, Christina delves into how we might reassess our approach to our conditioned world in such a way that our lives ignite.
Nikki Van Noy: I am joined today by Christina Dylag, author of the new book, Tiny Little Boxes: How to Cope with Existential Dread by Way of Ice Cream and Other Means. I love nothing more than a good title and this one is right up there, Christina.
Christina Dylag: Thank you so much, I appreciate that.
Nikki Van Noy: Talk to me a little bit about how you came to this title?
Christina Dylag: Well, I think it’s coinciding really nicely with what’s going on, on a global scale right now. Growing up, I definitely had that sense of existential dread. I grew up Catholic and just really did not understand and it just didn’t sit for me. Straight from the church, I was an atheist, a nihilist, and that also wasn’t really working for me. Then I really got turned on to spirituality in a different way–something that was way more expansive. I wanted to be able to provide the sort of philosophy that has allowed me to navigate life in that way.
I wanted to write this book for people who might get something out of that philosophy as well.
Nikki Van Noy: First of all, I just want to say, I resonate with that entirely. I had a very similar journey and I’m curious about how you found that mid-point after atheism. What happened or changed for you?
Christina Dylag: Well, I was really wanting to delve into different aspects of self-help or self-transformation, if you will. I was doing everything from reading a bunch of self-help books to different programs, different groups, all of these different modalities for transformation, and throughout those, I was able to kind of peel these hardened layers of myself. At the core, I realized this energy that’s pervasive, and not only within me but within everybody else and it allowed me to really connect with that and connect with people on this larger, more expansive level.
I think honestly, it started with A New Earth and Oprah. I had to get past all of that cynicism and all of the judgment that I had accrued over time, and pretty much get over myself–like you don’t know any better than anyone else, we’re all humans, we’re just trying to live this very physical life and how can we make it better? How can we make ourselves better, and how can we make it better for others as well?
Tiny Little Boxes
Nikki Van Noy: Talk to me about tiny little boxes? What does that mean to you exactly?
Christina Dylag: Tiny little boxes, it’s the boxes that have been constructed for us over time, whether that was from social conditioning or upbringing, the boxes that we put ourselves in, all of the limitations that we’ve put on ourselves and other people have put on us.
The purpose of the book is to see past those limitations and really connect with what our purpose is, and how we can utilize those purposes to better ourselves and better the world around us.
Nikki Van Noy: It’s really interesting hearing you talk about this. I think on some level, we all know this because we see it, but most parents want their kids to succeed, and feel like the world is theirs, and that their lives can look however they want them to look. But it is very true that early on, we start creating almost parameters for people to fit in.
I think you’re right, you can start to feel caged in by them–cynicism–it makes sense as a result of all that, and then you’re kind of left to either exist in that state or figure out how to unravel it at some point.
Christina Dylag: Yes, absolutely. I think it’s a process. I don’t think we’ve ever fully arrived at what our lives are meant for. I think we’re at a disadvantage if we think that there is an endpoint where we’re just good now and we don’t have to worry about anything.
We’ll always be improving and it’s a lifelong journey, so we don’t have to put ourselves in this box, if you will, of having to be the best at everything. It’s just about growth and constant evolution.
Nikki Van Noy: To you, where does the existential crisis or dread, as you put it, which is even better than crisis, how does that end up being the result of these boxes?
Christina Dylag: I think it’s this constant feeling that something just isn’t right. Or I think it could be different for everyone, it’s just this sort of emptiness that’s pervasive. We might not even qualify it like that, it just might feel like something’s missing or something needs to be changed. I think it’s a lack of purpose or maybe a lack of not connecting with our innermost talents and gifts in a way that can serve us the best.
Nikki Van Noy: I want to get into the book, but before I do that, talk to me a little bit about what made you want to write this book, to share your own journey and what you’ve learned from it?
Christina Dylag: Well, I’ve always been a writer, so I knew it was the mechanism by which I could communicate most effectively and that writing was always more geared towards novel and poetry and that sort of thing. Then, I just knew that this project was something that I needed to do, and I wanted it to allow people to find that freedom. I know everyone has the capability of seeking that freedom and I just wanted to be able to communicate that.
Yeah, it felt like this deep purpose and I had to do it. I’ve only felt that twice in my life, so I knew it was real. It felt so authentic and so real when it came to me, so I just knew I had to write it.
Nikki Van Noy: How does it feel now that you’ve accomplished that and gotten this book done and out and to the world?
Christina Dylag: It feels so good. It’s also nerve-wracking. Because it feels like I’m really showing myself in my true raw form, and that can be a little unnerving. Because I know that it’s not going to connect with everybody. Being able to distinguish what good criticism is and move forward with that and really learn from it, I just know that’s a part of the process as well. Yeah, it feels so good to be able to share it.
Nikki Van Noy: We talked about this a little bit before we started recording but the timing of it is pretty crazy too. Obviously, you did not design this to release in the midst of a pandemic unlike anyone alive has ever seen. I think most of us can relate to this idea of existential crisis, existential dread, but never before has that been so easily identifiable. It’s almost like we can stop and acknowledge and really look at it in a new way now.
Because there is this thing out there that we’re all aware of, there’s a purpose we can put behind it and a name we can put to it.
Christina Dylag: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s right in front of us and it allows us this time to really reflect, what structures are working for us, and which aren’t. How do I want to energetically contribute to the world around me? Do I want to perpetuate these cycles and these structures, or do I want to maybe focus my energy elsewhere?
Nikki Van Noy: I’m curious. I’m asking you to get a little bit personal here, but it feels like it relates to the book. Since these are things that you have thought about before this point, what has your experience during this pandemic been? It’s April 2st when we’re recording this so time has no meaning anymore, but we’re about six weeks in I would say at this point.
Christina Dylag: How long I been dealing with it? It’s been an interesting process because I think there is an ebb and flow, definitely. There are times of great clarity and I feel very at ease and I welcome the rest and the recovery that comes with it.
On the other end, I also have a business, and I had to close that business and it’s really been a practice in non-attachment. So, knowing that and just basically focusing on the things that I can control and the things that I cannot control, and every day is something different. So, some days I am not doing anything at all, and other days, thankfully, I get to focus on the book. So, that’s helpful as well but yeah, ebb and flow, it is some good days, some bad days, definitely.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah and I think we can all relate to that. It’s been interesting to me personally because I find that the good days are almost extraordinarily good. There is almost like a sense of euphoria to them.
Christina Dylag: Yeah.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah and then the bad days, they’re pretty extreme also, and you never know what to expect. For me, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of rhyme or reason to it.
Christina Dylag: Yeah, totally. You really don’t know what you’re going to get honestly, but yeah, you are totally right. It really goes back and forth in this really extreme manner, and you just have to roll with it. When I am having those bad days, I just succumb to them and let myself feel those feelings because I think also, we’re tapping into this consciousness on a level that is beyond us. So, I think it is just a part of the process honestly.
Nikki Van Noy: Talk to me about that consciousness.
Christina Dylag: So, everything is energy and we’re always contributing to the whole on this energetic level, and so we feel the energy as well. We can be in control of our personal energy, but we are also tapping into this energy that is within everything. This circumstance has brought to light so much positivity, and great negativity as well. I think we’re just bound to confront those things throughout this period. We always are, in general too, but it is just so heightened right
Nikki Van Noy: Kind of like going back to that existential dread thing that we can put names to it now, and it is much more specific and visible than it was perhaps before.
Christina Dylag: Yes, and we are all dealing with the same thing on a global scale, which I don’t think has happened before. Especially with how much information is being spread constantly and how much connection we have through the internet. It is just heightened in this way that I don’t think we have ever seen before.
Nikki Van Noy: I agree completely. In this book, one of the things you talk about is some of the unconscious truths that people hold on to. Can you give me an example of what some of those look like and how they impact us?
Christina Dylag: Sure, I think we hold these “truths” for ourselves and they’re not truth. We’ve just been conditioned to believe that they are. Maybe the way that we are supposed to look, or the way that we are supposed to feel, or maybe the job that we are supposed to have, or going to school, basically anything that we think we are supposed to do that isn’t necessarily so. It is just what we’ve been conditioned to believe. So, if we can see past those, we can really distinguish between what is good for us and what isn’t, and nothing is good or bad necessarily. It’s just what we deem so for ourselves.
Nikki Van Noy: What are some ways that you have found in terms of being able to break that conditioning?
Christina Dylag: Well, for me I’ve always kind of thought outside of the box. I think it is one of my contributions, honestly. Early on I thought I was honestly just pretty weird, and it was hard for me to make friends. I was very shy, but I realized it was a strength to be able to see things from a different perspective. So when I honored that truth, the truth that I saw for myself, I was able to find joy in that versus feel like a victim like, “Oh, I am different, people don’t relate to me,” and I was able to take what was a weakness in my eyes and kind of turn it on its head so that I could contribute, essentially.
Nikki Van Noy: And how did that shift things for you? I understand being able to contribute, but what did that look like in a practical way in terms of how your life changed?
Christina Dylag: For me, I think it started one of the biggest life changes for me. I had graduated from college and I decided to take a trip to India and I didn’t have a return flight. I just decided to go, and I was navigating India on my own. I was doing some pretty intensive meditation and I decided that I wanted to work for myself and I wanted to open a bar. I told my sister about it and she was totally on board.
I came back to Las Vegas and we ended up building a cocktail bar and I had never bartended a day in my life. When we opened, we ended up being featured on all of these major publications and it’s been a huge success, but had I listened to everyone else, all of the naysayers, I never would have done it, but it’s given me this greater freedom. This ability to work for myself, create a schedule that I like, and write, but I couldn’t just resign myself to the expectations of others. Basically, I just did what I wanted.
I was able to see past the limitations of what everyone else thought I should be doing in order to work for myself and gain that freedom in doing so.
Nikki Van Noy: Which is a big thing, we tend to talk about that in such an offhand way but for anyone who tries it, it is not easy to make that leap.
Christina Dylag: Right, I mean not everything is just going to be positive along the way. There are a lot of pitfalls and you have to make concessions as well. So, you go forward knowing that but ultimately, when you do reach your goal, it feels so rewarding and so liberating. You just have to keep that in your mind. Short successes versus long term goals, I think.
Nikki Van Noy: Another word you use in this book that I really like, because it is so perfectly descriptive about what you are talking about, is this idea of dullness. For listeners who can resonate with that idea of just feeling kind of dull in their own lives, what in your mind is a good starting point to start to break that and move into something with more air in it, for lack of a better word?
Christina Dylag: Really just finding the things that bring you the most happiness. It could be anything. Don’t think about it in a way that makes you think about what you should be doing, but really find the things in your day that just make time fly by. The things that just really give you a sense of lightness.
Think about how you could maybe do that thing more, or just try to connect with it on a different level. Then see which things are giving you that sense of lightness and which aren’t and then you can go from there and reformulate your life so that it brings you that sense of joy more frequently.
Nikki Van Noy: And the last thing that I want to ask you about is Nihilist Ice Cream, can you tell me what that is?
Nihilist Ice Cream
Christina Dylag: Sure, well, when I came up with a book, I knew that I had to come up with a marketing scheme for it because so many books are published per year, of course. So, I came up with this idea of Nihilist Ice Cream and it’s pretty much just a tongue in cheek concept to promote the book. But in essence, I’ll be taking my hearse on the road. For now, it is just sort of stalled, but I have it wrapped in this really design-forward Nihilist Ice Cream wrap, and I’ll be delivering black charcoal lavender ice cream to people in exchange for their souls.
Soul extractions are 6 dollars and 66 cents, existential dread is complimentary, and the aftercare manual, which is the book, is $11.11.
Nikki Van Noy: That is amazing. I am assuming that this applies to people in Vegas mainly? Is there anywhere they can go to get into this, or do they just keep their eye out for a hearse driving down the street, what’s the deal?
Christina Dylag: Well, they can follow @nihilisticecream on Instagram and I’ll have updates available there. Then when all of these crises subside, I’ll be able to take the hearse on the road as well.
Nikki Van Noy: Very cool. So, everybody, be on the lookout for a fashion-forward hearse and if you’ve been looking for the opportunity to sell your soul, here it is right in front of you.
Christina Dylag: Yeah, that’s right.
Nikki Van Noy: All right Christina, thank you so much for joining us today. You mentioned Nihilist Ice Cream on Instagram, is there anywhere else that listeners can find you or should look out for you?
Christina Dylag: nihilisticecream.com as well and then I am on Facebook as well and they can follow Christina Dylag.
Nikki Van Noy: Perfect, thank you for joining us, and good luck with the book.
Christina Dylag: Thank you so much.