Thursday, August 26, 2010

Theme for an Imaginary Western - part 1

This is the time of year when it always starts for me -- I get really, really down.

I think the apex of my feeling this way was in my teenage years when I first was sent off to a military boarding school. That's a story for another blog (or eighty), but suffice it to say that during the -- over 3 -- years that I was there at Fork Union Military Academy, I dreaded the conclusion of summer like the end of life itself.

Let's just say Dickens would have killed for a setting as grim as FUMA for 'Oliver Twist'. It practically writes itself:

So every year the swansong of summer feels a little like the end of life once more, and every year I have a yearning, disconsolate feeling that comes as much from regretting opportunity lost as it does from any actual end of things…

It's all a metaphor really. Goodbye to the whiling away of time spent talking on the street corner, goodbye to the informality of people's bodies barely hidden in their abbreviated summer garments, to the sound of people out and about, enjoying (or cursing) the warmth -- where was I for all these things? It all goes by so fast.

Couldn't I have done it better somehow?

Soon it will be snowstorms, and bundling up. It's beautiful too, and yes, I've always chosen living somewhere where seasons change, but summer is special to me.

Yet, I was determined that I would make this year different than the others.

So this year when I made some plans for a second trip (since you are following this blog you remember my Maui adventure), I was actually quite surprised at the range of reaction that it would elicit:

You see, as it turns out….I'm headed for Burning Man…

For those of you who don't know, Burning Man is a yearly festival that takes place near the end of the summer in a place called the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, in what could be kindly called a hostile environment. Very remote area. Daytime temperatures can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit and by nighttime it can get as low as 40. The area is prone to sudden windstorms - and occasionally short bursts of rain that turn the place into a mud pit. For a week the area is populated by counterculture types bicycling around in tutus and tiaras, walking around in stilts and clown suits, wearing multicolored wigs, driving around in so-called 'mutant vehicles', and generally having a big party using any and all manner of licit and illicit means to supplement their fun. Also the idea is that everyone in attendance is an artist. LOTS of artwork is around.

My sense is it will be like a big Woodstock where everyone is an active participant. Accommodations? You camp, in what sort of looks like a refuge camp for the terminally hip.

Oh, and the population of this impromptu city is about 45,000. Which makes it the 4th largest in Nevada…for a week. At the end of the week - population nearly equals zero.

So is it the biggest, most annoying tailgate party in the history of the world, or a Mecca where enlightenment can be achieved through good fellowship and art? Stay tuned…

As I mentioned, I was quite surprised at the range of reaction from my best and brightest. I'm either crazy - or really on to something. Or both.

On the east coast, there are a preponderance of folks who don't know what Burning Man even is. One day recently I was hanging with some friends, and I offhandedly said:
"Oh, I have some news, I'm going to Burning Man….


After nonchalantly delivering that to the group, I'm focusing on the 25 year old dude sitting directly in front of me, trying to explain what Burning Man is to him (it's not easy) - when I notice out of the corner of my eye that another person sitting to my right in our gathering (40ish - let's call him 'RB') is looking at me very intensely. As I've experienced RB, he's no stranger to 'adventure' - shall we say - and is replete with stories of his exploits which to my mind are pretty astonishing. I think of him as being far, far, far more 'adventurous' - on every level - than I am. We've chatted about Burning Man before, and the idea of my going.

I turn towards him, and he's staring at me, jaw dropped, eyes wide open as though I had just landed in a spaceship.

After a silence I ask: "What's up, man?"

"WOW!", he says…"ALONE...THAT'S A BOLD MOVE!"

Um....should I be more worried about this?

I have been fascinated with Burning Man ever since I heard about it. In fact I don't know where I first heard of it, but in the past few years I have thought every year I would 'try' to go. For a while it was schemes hatched with friends who ultimately couldn't make it. Then when I realized that wasn't getting me anywhere, I mulled it over with tacit - ultimately passive - interest, occasionally mentioning it to someone. Finally, this year after discussing it in an email thread with my friend Alecia from the west coast, I began wondering: "what would it take for me to actually do this? -- I mean planning, money, the whole 9 yards."

While not a 'burner' herself, Alecia knows a lot of folks who she says regularly go to burning man. I'm not sure how well. I didn't ask for names, because I want to fend for myself. She had the scoop, though. Ultimately, it was a fragment from her email that finally pushed me through to action:
"...and you don't come back the same person."

Yep, I like the idea of that. Not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but yep I like that idea.

One night, soon after receiving that note, I went to the BM website and started looking at what was involved. A lot of camping gear I don't have for one thing...crap!

Also needed: a plane ticket and some way to get from the Reno airport to Black Rock 'City'. I started looking at ticket prices, just musing about the possibility. It turns out to be really expensive to take a flight to Reno with 2 weeks notice.....really freakin' expensive. $750. It only cost $850 to get to Hawai'i fer cryin' out loud!

Judging from that, I'm figuring it's going to cost maybe $2000 to do the whole trip, including camping gear. Not doable!

I look at fares 4 weeks out -- around $300 before fees. That's what I figured. Oh well, too late.


.......uh, let me just try Priceline. I'll say $400.

A message pops up…

"The price you bid is most likely too low. Many of our customers enjoy up to %40 savings, but your chances of success will be higher with a higher bid."

To hell with that…CONTINUE.

"Your bid of $400 has been accepted, full price $446."

"ehh, still a little high, but I'd do that", I think...CONTINUE.

"Sorry but we cannot find a flight for you at this time. If you want to adjust travel times the following bid is available for a limited time only: $328 with taxes and fees."


It would seem it's now -- or never. Like...RIGHT now.

"How long am I going to keep putting this off?", I ask myself. "When am I going to step up to the plate?"

My heart races, literally pounding in my chest. Fear is screaming at me: "Don't Do It!, What if you can't meet anyone, what if it's cold?, What if it's hot?, you won't have anywhere to sleep for a couple of nights!, You can't carry all that stuff!! - what if - what if…."

Please allow me to introduce my inner 8 year old -- still trying to protect me, but woefully behind the times. He remembers the military school years all too well.

I tell myself - as calmly as possible - "trust. the. universe."

pause......hesitating.........heart pounding..........pause.........

..... p a u s e .....


"Your confirmation number is on the following page:"

Well, whaddya freakin' know? I'm going to Burning Man…..

The universe starts responding - big time - sometimes in wonderfully unexpected ways.

My buddy Robert is an amazingly open and spacious, awake person. All along I've been sharing my nascent planning with Robert, since he's my first go-to for taking care of my dog, Tito. Plus, he enjoys my space, and uses the studio, so it's a synergistic relationship. He's unshakably supportive.

I tell Robert it's a go, so expect to come housesit and Tito-sit. Once I explain it a little more, he volunteers that he has all sorts of camping gear - in fact everything except a sleeping bag. The next night he shows up with a spaceage tent, portable shower, lanterns, flashlights, cushions….this is all stuff I thought I was going to have to buy - and small enough that I can fit it in bags that can go in checked luggage on the plane!

A dry run of the new accommodations, kind courtesy of Robert:

At the other end of the spectrum, my dear friend Murray, upon hearing the news, is clearly feeling exasperation. I joke that it's either my summer to 'find myself', or a delayed mid-life crisis.

By the way, why is it only I find that funny?

"Can't you find yourself on some mountain in upstate New York?" Murray blurts. I have no answer for that one.

Uncharacteristic for him.....hmm.

Later though, he calls me - unusually late - especially to clarify. "I'm sorry I was so hard on you", he says, "I was feeling protective." He adds quickly: "Elena thinks it's great." (Elena is his wife, and a good friend too). I hear her in the background of the phone conversation confirming that.

"I just thought you'd want to know that"
, Murray says - signing off in what feels a little like gentle confession. Later the next day, Murray has sprung into action as well, finding me a sleeping bag and a mess kit amongst his stuff.

NOTE TO SELF: Methinks Elena has exerted a gentle hand in this late night call.

So it turns out I have very little to buy. When I hit 'continue', I thought I was going to be buying everything. Thanks universe!

OK, some of my friends were shocked. I just did a big cannonball into a pretty placid pool.

Maybe that means I am on to something.

Going for the bacchanalia? Fear not friends, I'm way too much of a hard ass for that. I didn't suddenly turn into Caligula overnight. Still, it wouldn't hurt if I could dance like no one's watching - just once in a while.

This trip though, cadet Robins....

.... is expecting a 50 mile hike in full combat gear.

This feels like something to confront - a bookend to that dreaded summer goodbye, and yesteryear's annual return to military school. Obviously it's 180 degrees from that prison, but still inexorable, inevitable, inescapable...uncontrollable....a parcel in the mail that's now out of your hands.

Something to confront, but this time, something to not just endure but maybe conquer. Maybe even... enjoy.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves here.

Primary feeling? Yeah, quite honestly it's still dread. But as a trusted advisor said, operate over the fear, don't wait for it to subside - because it's not going to.

So a few people misunderstood me. Maybe I misunderstood them. Hey, my heart is in the right place, that's the important part. After all, Murray came around quickly enough.

...and come to think of it, maybe my timing's a little off. I could've set this up sooner. You know, when you think about it - Mercury is in retrograde.

Thus, in the final analysis, I need to remember what my reluctant guru told me - not so long ago:
"Everything is just right as it is.
Thats what I think.
Doesn't mean it always feels good."

trust. the. universe.

…and so, it's off to the Black Rock Desert.


Saraswati said...

A friend once told me that she honestly believed that Burning Man was the reason that she took a human birth.

I thought that is was a bit dramatic, but then I again I haven't been to BM either.

That is quite a pool you are cannonballing into... wow. Very bold and very cool.

And you cannot ignore how the universe is ushering you on with support. That is actually what struck me the most by your it became so clear that that so many different things were lining up and opening to help you to move into this direction.

I wonder if where you end up is as important as is finding a way to live where you pay attention, break free from habits, and respond to life as it's happening. Maybe that is the treasured experience, not whatever does or does not happen at BM.

(two cents)

dogtunes said...

Yeah Man, It's Murray and I wish I was there with you!!!

Elena's response to your trip was just the first thing that made me think it through a little. Even though I consider myself a New Yorker, I have always had a special affinity with our western neighbors. As a creative person, I think that the fantastical ends your new Bodhisattva Brothers and Sisters go to to make visceral visions a reality is AWESOME,DOPE and really KEEN. Yes, KEEN! I will try to mentally zone in on you with some positive rays...