Velveteen Rabbit co-founder Christina Dylag hasn't always had her sights set on spirits. Back in 2013, when the then-26-year-old opened the Arts District bar alongside her sister Pamela, a compelling personal project was already a less-public part of Christina's Downtown dream. Dylag, now 32, has finally found the time to launch her first book, Tiny Little Boxes: How to Cope With Existential Dread by Way of Ice Cream and Other Means. The book publishes this spring, but Dylag is already teasing her project via social media and through an experimental art project she has dubbed "Nihilist Ice Cream." We talked with Dylag about her philosophical inspirations, and how nihilism (and ice cream) just might be the path to happiness.
When did you start writing Tiny Little Boxes? I always knew that I wanted to write, but I didn't want that to be a financial burden to myself, writing just to pay the bills, because I thought that might deter me from being able to fully express myself. I actually opened the bar for the purpose of writing on the side and having that freedom. It was kind of a dual purpose for opening the bar, obviously—to create Velveteen Rabbit and the community space that it is, but also so that I could explore the artistic realm with more freedom. Unfortunately, because I went that route, I wasn't as incorporated in the writing world as other people might be. It was like, "Oh, now I don't know all these other pieces to the puzzle," you know? I'm not as connected.
Because people know you as the co-owner and co-founder of Velveteen Rabbit. Yeah. I can't tell you how many times in the last few years people have only spoken to me in terms of cocktails. I get it, but that's such a one-dimensional aspect of a person. There are so many other things that I like to explore, but no one knows that because it's like, they just know me as the owner of Velveteen.
I'd assume, for most people running a business for the first time, the last thing they can think about is writing a book. How were you able to find time to do both? It took six years. The first year, it was 80-hour work weeks, so there really wasn't an opportunity to write. I was writing a book for the last six years, off and on, but my attention was just so spread through different areas, it was hard for me to completely focus on it. And then I got inspired to write this book in February, so I just kind of busted it out in the last few months.
What inspired you to write Boxes? I really wanted to focus on myself, so I started delving into different modalities for exploration of the self. I did Reiki, I went to Landmark Forum, hypnotherapy. Throughout that process, a new perspective really opened up for me and all of these ideas came to the surface in this very deliberate and all-consuming way.
Landmark Forum? What's that? It's basically a weekend-long thing, some people think it's very cultish, which, I get (laughs). Throughout the weekend, there's a coach at the front of the room, and you're being coached through what has held you back in your life. People go up to the front of the room and they'll say, "This is bothering me, I can't get past this," and they'll get coached in front of, like, 100 people. And they kind of break you down. Any perspective that you have, anything that you really have a negative viewpoint about, that's you. You decided to have that viewpoint. It's not the external world that's causing you to feel a certain way, you are creating that perspective. So, you see how you're creating all the negativity in your life. It's powerful though, because once you leave, you realize that you can create an entirely positive view of life.
What's the book about? The book is about navigating the world in a way that grants us more freedom, understanding the social constructs that have been conditioned into us, and being able to not only re-examine those, but discard any of the ideologies that keep us from exploring other aspects of ourselves. So, just realizing that all of human life is a construction and it's all made up. When we realize that, we can approach life in a way that grants us more freedom.
You've teased a component of the book, "Nihilist Ice Cream," on social media. What is it? It's an absurdist art experiment in the vein of social satire. I'm basically getting a trailer and outfitting it as "Nihilist Ice Cream." People will be bartering their souls for ice cream. It's $6.66 cents for a soul extraction, existential dread is complimentary—and as an aftercare guide, I'm selling the book. It's sort of just playing with the themes of lightness and darkness, because we as humans tend to take things very seriously, and life is exciting and magical, but we have to kind of take ourselves out of it in order to see that. It's kind of poking fun at how seriously we take ourselves.
You're actually selling ice cream? I'm going to be giving away ice cream, well, for the bartering system. I'm working with Paradise Creamery, so we'll be kind of cross promoting for that. It's been great working with [Paradise Creamery owner] Valerie [Stunning].
Why did you decide to launch your book in this way? So many people write books and they fly under the radar, so I knew that I needed to come up with something creative and out of the box in order to promote myself, especially because I didn't really have an audience. I knew that I needed that element, especially because I'm not going the traditional publishing route. I'm doing self-publishing through a company called Scribe, and they take care of everything within the process—everything from cover design, interior design, editing, proofreading, line editing, they do marketing, PR stuff, copywriting—like everything. They really hold your hand throughout the process. It's been so enjoyable because they actually know what they're doing.
Of all the different alternative therapies that you did as research for this book, what was the most impactful? Anything that has forced me to look at the shadow aspects of myself, that's been really beneficial. Oftentimes we're told "just be positive," but I think in order to really overcome obstacles, we have to realize how we're holding ourselves back. Landmark Forum honestly was the most impactful.
How do you balance that positivity with satire and the "existential dread" that you tackle in your book? We're always living in duality. It's impossible to be happy without having felt sadness, you know? I'm always toying with those ideas of the lightness paired with the darkness. The satire is just sort of a guise. It's something that I've always dealt with. I've been such a satirical, often cynical person, so I want to honor that part of myself and how ridiculous it is, and also pair it with these uplifting notions. It's a delicate dance. Nihilism in general is seen as very pessimistic, however, it's often misconstrued. If there is no objective meaning to life and you are creating the meaning in your life, that gives you power to create whatever meaning you want. People often focus on "if life is meaningless, what's the point?"—but everything is left once there's nothing.
To learn more, follow @NihilistIceCream on Instagram.