Saturday, September 25, 2010

Theme for an Imaginary Western - part 6

Dr. Bronner's -- aka Foam Mo' Arigato

My mood is up and down at Burning Man. I mean _wildly_ up and down.

In these posts, I realize I'm talking mostly about the down part, because that's the "sharp edge" that Chogyam Trungpa, for example, talks about "leaning into" - the edge I want to work with -- but I'm up a lot too. Don't worry, there's more on that later...

I'm walking down the road this morning, and I'm just unhappy. Can't elevate my mood with happy thoughts.

This is not like me.

On the other hand, I'm oftentimes insulated from the fun in others' lives, my existence being a little on the solitary side these days. Maybe I'm just jealous?

Actually, no - not jealous -- that's not me either....I think, maybe unrequited...

Here at Burning Man everyone seems to be having this great time with people they just met, their old friends, etc….and I can't get arrested. They are doing what they want, dressing like they want...having FUN...

...and it just feels like it's my fault that my experience is not better.

Well, it is, isn't it?

Thankfully, I am here to hold my feet to the fire (and remember, everything is burning), so I'm not exactly complaining, but on the other hand...I need the magic formula that turns it all around...

I turn a corner and there's 4 people splashing around in the mud of a water truck. Occasionally the trucks come by and wet down the road by dropping 'spare' (non-potable) water on them. (YUK!)

below: generic Internet photo of Burning Man water truck:

On this day, there are 2 beautiful women in bikinis and 2 young guys in shorts, probably in their 20's, and they are giggling up a storm. Sheer happiness. Closest to me, one of the men is hugging one of the women and she's sort of wiggling to get loose in that playful way. It's a moment when time seems to slow down - in this tableau - before she turns and wiggles loose of his embrace.

When she turns, I can see that she's missing her right arm from just above the elbow.

I feel truly touched, that she seems accepted, loved, happy, self expressed. It's quite beautiful really...

At the same time, I simply hate myself in this moment. Lowest ebb of the trip. Burning Man 2010's nadir.

Here is this person, so very happy despite whatever challenges she's facing (at least right now) - no discernible compunction, unease or remorse - and I can barely smile. I have arms. What is my fucking problem? Seriously - It's like I'm my own worst enemy.

As I walk on, I'm thinking about what I'm going to write in this particular post, and it's dark. Man, is it dark. 'Damn, I can't write that', I think, 'people will think I'm suicidal'.

Also I'm starting to become cognizant to the fact that this all is ending in a few days, and even if I'm not always happy in it -- this is one happy place. I would move here tomorrow if it were a 365 day city instead of a 7 day one.....and no, I'm not kidding.

I'm not ready to say goodbye.

Well, I started thinking about this therapist I once had. One night at the session (this probably goes back 15 years), that therapist asked me this question:

"Where do you get your touch?"

I thought it was totally weird. It's like saying do you get your tomatoes from Trader Joes or Whole Foods? Touch? What the hell are you talking about?

But over the years, I have thought about that question more and more. It's not merely a sexual question. The therapist's inference is that touch is so important to human beings, that it's something that absolutely needs to be supplied - like a basic nutrient. That was not acknowledged in my childhood - not acknowledged by family or environment.

As lovely as my family is, there weren't a lot of tactile signals from them -- especially my mother who didn't love being touched (or so she would SAY). I do want to say, she stood strong for me over the years - very stong, and I feel immense gratitude....but there's definitely a lot I have to learn, that's the bottom line...

...and I admire people who have that gift of being tactile beings in their normal demonstrative moments...yet every time someone touches me unexpectedly, I jump a little. Not in a good way. In the past, I used to express displeasure when that 'jump' happened inside of me.

Now - I don't mention it, instead realizing its life-affirming value, and I try to settle into a comfort zone - which is a small step forward.

On this day after a week away from my short hello/goodbye hugs, plus a little rawer emotionally than usual, I think I was particularly 'hungry'. More than usual...

It's against that backdrop that the next experience occurs:

I heard that there was a place that you could take a shower. At this point it's been a week since I took a shower, so - even within my basic grumpiness - I'm pretty excited about the notion of that. I've actually been there a few times trying to catch them.

The camp is called "Foam Mo' Arigato".

I went by there once and said, in my typical non-threatening, jocular style delivery - "Are you still doing the showers or have I missed it forever?". The guy thinks for a minute and then replies in a guru-like demeanor with a question: "Well, you never really miss anything forever, do you?"

How Zen...I like this place already....

The bad news is that I had, in fact, missed them on that earlier day...

....and it is a really long walk, almost to the other side of the city (at least a mile), but on this day, with the girl with no forearm still very much on my mind... I made it -- for the very last round of showers!

NOTE: I include a few pictures - found around the web - for some idea of the place. I didn't take pictures, with the exception of the one of me below, because no one had clothes on.

Informally to the rest of us, it's the Dr. Bronner truck camp. Remember Dr. Bronner's Peppermint soap? Well, here at this camp, they put you in a plastic shipping container on a flatbed truck platform, and then pump Dr. Bronner's soap into the container from these big vats of it (at least 50 gallons each) they have sitting there...

...and then spray water into the container from a fire truck. I figured I'd give it a shot.

On this day when I arrived, they were doing the showers, and a bunch of really good looking people women and men, were waiting with no clothes on on the ladder up to the container where the wash takes place. Probably all 20 to 30 year olds. All differing, but beautiful body types. The men I didn't look at so much, other than to size them up, so to speak. I had nothing to worry about here…so despite my natural shyness, I took off my clothes and joined the line.

The ladder, but on a different day:

When it's our turn to go in, I respectfully head to my little area on the other side, and the men and women are somewhat separated. The guy who's running it says "that one doesn't work, go over there", and with that he pushes me into the middle of the women, then quickly turns on the soap spray. I've lost my balance and - in fact - everybody is falling around and bumping into one another. Happily I'm on the women's side (or this post might either be about my upcoming round of therapy, or that I have some 'news').

Anyway, it was fun...and natural, very natural.

Happy people with more clothes than us on, different day (and not at Burning Man):

It really felt liberating to actually be naked around a gender-mixed group of other people like that. My experience in military school showers - with all male contingent - was NOT calming, this was. Primordially calming.

This modesty that I got from my Puritanical ancestors is bullshit. Absolute bullshit. Unhealthy. I want a do-over!

Censored photo of me in birthday apparel after the bath:

That dark mood was instantly transformed - - - and I think I stopped - for good - doubting the veracity of my former therapist's question.

Later I walked almost all the way home with no clothes at all on, straight through the center of town. It was my answer to unhealthy modesty. What I met with was mostly indifference, mixed with being subtly checked out by attractive women a couple of times (if those imperfections I mentioned earlier can be attractive to me, certainly mine can also be attractive to the right recipient?).

Ok -- this time -- I'll allow myself to believe I really saw the glances.

I also provided fodder for an esplanade comedian, with surprisingly little embarrassment on my part. I even answered him back. Maybe the fortune was right...maybe the smallest step toward your goal is progress...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Theme for an Imaginary Western - part 5

Click to enlarge (then click the picture to further enlarge): Temple wall detail...
Temple-take 2, reading my angels and another fortune

As the days pass, I am really feeling lonely. Painfully. I am having a lot of trouble with it. Still loving the whole experience, but lonely...

The veterans have other veterans, Lesbian ladies have "Camp Beaverton (a home for wayward girls)", Our 'flexible' friends have the 'Gender Bender' camp.

Where does this wayward soul go?

So, I'm hanging out with people in these large groups, feeling uncomfortable, and very often I don't even say anything for the longest time...

I was at the 'Super Friends' across the street, and after not saying a single word for maybe 45 minutes, I felt like I got the idea, and so I got up and said, "well, I'll be running along". 'Quiet' then says - sounding a little disappointed - "oh, do you have to go?". That was quite lovely, made me feel good and it also bent reality a little for me, because it meant 'we'd like you to stay even though you're not entertaining us'.

I left anyway.
...let's face it - Rome wasn't built in a day.....

TEMPLE - part deux:
The other day when Reklaw (from across the street at 'More Fun, Less Suck') gave me the fortune cookie I mentioned, I opened it and revealed the following fortune:

...and so I resolved that my Temple post of gratitude would be about my dear friends.

I decided I would actually list people - alphabetically, and I thought about the list very hard, spending an entire evening on it. The newest friend is someone I very recently met, and the oldest non-family member is someone I've known for 47 years. Also my mother - who passed away in 1985 - my nephew, and my sister and her husband are included.

It was a careful process. I set down important criteria about who could be on the list. It had to do with the person's integrity, and what they brought out in me, or amplified in me, maybe how they had 'had my back', or experiences that we shared. Some knew my father, now dead for 45 years - more knew my mother. A couple have passed on, some are out of touch. Some are superb musicians...

All are great friends.

Also, there were reasons why some folks who were once great friends could not be on this list, and so I regretfully omitted those names. Also there are people I wish I could list, but I haven't gotten to know them as well as I'd like, and likely never will.

But the list is right.

I composed the prose very carefully. I poured over my memory and lists of contacts to make sure I hadn't left anybody out, and I contemplated each person included. It also gave me a chance to reflect on the future...who might I not yet know? - someone who isn't yet, but will be, on the list...

After I went out to the temple and wrote my message, I shared this post on Facebook for them to know they were remembered and loved:

As I thought about it last night, I decided I wanted to write something more, and something more positive. So before dinner I borrowed a sharpie from a person at the next camp, and this morning - at first light - I set out for the Temple once again, and when I arrived I wrote the following:

'When I arrived here a women gave me a fortune cookie....It said: "Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are." with this burn I commemorate deep and abiding friendship with my love and gratitude:
Alecia, Andy, Damion, Danny, Gary, Jack, Lake, Laura, Lucy (RIP), Mitchell, Murray, Pickens, Robert, Saraswati, Sevgi, Simon, Tom A., Tom B., Tom P., Tony (RIP) and Whit.

Reed Robins - 9/2/2010'

Click to enlarge (then click the picture to further enlarge): 'Reed's friends' detail..

Following the temple visit, I resumed a search of sorts. I have been looking for Mara.

My friend Alecia, having read on Facebook about my challenges with loneliness and connection, has been encouraging me in her comments to contact a friend of hers who is at Burning Man named Mara. I have gone looking for Mara's camp a few times and not been able to find it, and today was no exception. It has devolved to me just walking around in the vicinity where she's known to be camping, walking up to random people and saying "Do you know Mara?". Next person: "Do you know Mara?". I'm starting to think the search is futile...

So, after abandonment of today's search, and feeling the pinch of that lonely feeling, I happen upon the following sign as I am walking down the road:

I think, 'what the heck, who doesn't want to know about their angels anyway?' I decide to walk over.

The woman who is doing the readings is sitting there next to her vintage 1961 trailer all alone, and she is quite attractive. Her name is Ava, and she speaks with a strange accent. I asked her where she is from, but while I don't remember her answer (Canada maybe?), I can say it doesn't fit the accent, so there's more to her story....

We talked about why I am here at Burning Man for a minute, and then she goes into the reading. All told, it takes about 30 minutes.

She gave me some background on her beliefs about the angels who purportedly follow us and help us. It's not the first time I've heard this.

Anyway, she starts by telling me that when I see a rainbow - actual or representational, or just the colors of - my mother is around. There had been a fairly impressive rainbow after a hard rainstorm the previous day (a rare event on the playa), she may have that in mind:

Then, somewhat of out of the blue, she gets very intense: "Your mother did the best that she could, you know that don't you?"
"I know" I say.
(I'm thinking 'can we take this down a notch?', but as she ups the ante, it's hard not to get swept away...)
Growing even more intense, she says - pretty emphatically: "I want you to know that your mother did all she could." "Things were different…what they knew…"
"I understand", I say, gently interrupting.

...this is getting a little uncomfortable...

Then she throws her head back to concentrate, thinks for a minute - maybe more - and actually sheds tears as she fans her face in that way people do when they're trying to hold it together. Then she looks me over slowly from head to toe...."You are so weighted down, It's like your feet are chained to the earth, you can't fly." (Points to my feet) "You need to unchain yourself."
"You have to realize that when you are with people you are giving them a special gift." "Only you can give this gift. It's very special." Her language circles back to this repeatedly as she continues to talk. She pauses often and checks to make sure I'm taking it all in.

"Imagine your presence in other people's lives as a gift to them"....

Angels or no angels...this feels pretty heavy.

Afterwards we have a very long hug. This is the first real human contact I have experienced since coming to Burning Man, the first time that someone has actually given me the gift of their complete focus. It feels like thirst being quenched, so I want - and ask - to stay....but she has other plans, so we part ways there.

I walk a couple of blocks before I go back and ask to take a picture to at least remember the moment:

It was particularly poignant for me as I walked back to the camp. The experience, basically just a goof at first, had laid me bare.

I felt like a person might feel - parched from thirst, after receiving a single drop of clean cold water...

I decided I'd take the more circuitous Esplanade route back to camp, as I wasn't quite ready to talk to people. I know when I pass 'More Fun, Less Suck' there will be happy, chipper people out there that I'll be snubbing if I don't at least engage a little.

So feeling the need to process all this, I turn the corner onto the esplanade, still pretty far away (1/2 mile?) from our camp and quite preoccupied with my thoughts, and this is who I run into:

It's a city of 50,000 people, but I just 'happen' to run into Reklaw...

After a short greeting and a little small talk, she says to me, "would you like a fortune cookie, or a candy"?

"Yes, thank you, I'll have another fortune cookie."

As I walk away from her, on my way back down the Esplanade, I open the cookie to reveal the contents...

...and this was the fortune inside:

Friday, September 17, 2010

Theme for an Imaginary Western - Part 4

Part 4 - Fitting in and the temple pilgrimage - take 1

Well - I am working....trying to flourish in this new world. As I mentioned, it is hard for me to just sashay right into someone's camp I don't know and say hello (yeah I know, just like the 'default' world) -- but it's the only way for me to make friends because I have no prior relationships to build on. Other people seem to have no problem...even thrive. I try to say hello to people on the street, especially women, but it's not natural for me.

It is easier than in New York, though.

'NoBooty' tells me I have to just stroll into 10 strange camps a day and start up a conversation. I start doing that, but they always seem stilted and contrived. I don't know how more normal people do it! I was with a friend walking down the street about a year ago, and we - really he - struck up a conversation with these two women we just happened to walk past, and five minutes later we were all sitting down having drinks. To this day I don't understand how that happened...I mean, at the time I saw nothing particularly notable about that interaction: It must all be body language or something...


Anyway, I am being far friendlier than I am in the normal world, I'll give myself that.

It feels like everyone here either has shapely beautiful curves, or 6 pack abs - or both, and that's even the older people. Yeah, I know that's not totally true, but still...On the plus side, age doesn't feel like as much of a factor here, which is really freeing for me. Like my father before me, I'm freaked out about my age - I think it's genetic. Of course, when you look what happened to him (he ended up dead) you realize he had a point. One day, I see my shirtless reflection while walking in a car's window and I cringe. YIKES!

Counter to that though, I do realize that my favorite aspect of the women's bodies are their imperfections. How about that? I've only seen a couple of women's bodies that weren't - in some way - beautiful to me the whole time here, big or small, young or old. It's a petite epiphany for me.

Of course, having just been through Western Nevada, I'm well aware these folks are not a representative cross section of the general population.

I'm having similar insights through sharing my music. I brought my guitar, and have also been playing pianos located throughout the city here (believe it or not, people bring actual pianos out to the desert here). In addition, I have been going into center camp every day where they have 24 hour a day performances by burners, and have come to find a very interesting thing:

Prowess is not the coin of the realm here.

Yes, I know, that mirrors that pesky 'default' world too -- but for some reason I'm far more present to it here....and yet it's less insidious, because it doesn't feel so unfair, it just is what it is. Maybe the stakes don't feel so high - I don't know. Maybe I like these people, but don't particularly like Justin Beiber.

I was at 'More Fun, Less Suck' one day, and I played all my best stuff. I was on fire musically, but a little subdued in terms of 'stage presence' ... maybe somewhat...let's say sonically apologetic, kind of waiting for people to be drawn in so I could then come out.

Later a drummer comes by - yeah, he's good I guess - but not amazing. However...He's just putting it all out there from his first downbeat, and he soon has the whole camp dancing in the streets.

Similarly, some of the performers at Center Camp really aren't that good technically, but the level of their connection comes from somewhere else entirely. I find myself sitting there thinking "I'm so much better than that" but of course I'm never there trying to get a slot, so that means absolutely nothing.

I only saw one act that sucked at Center Camp, and they sucked because they didn't connect, not because they didn't know the chords. They seemed uh, clueless...Hmmm, did I just use that word earlier?

Anyway, there were two times when I felt like I was really connecting musically. One day I took a stroll down the esplanade (the 'oceanfront' street as it were), playing my guitar, and I had a German camera crew come up and film me...

After initially hearing me play, they seemed pretty excited, making sure to get a view of me under the distant man (seen over my shoulder in the above picture). I told them the could film me if they also snapped a couple of pictures on my little camera for me to have.

Later, I was playing piano, doing a pretty good blues (just improvising it), and a guy was filming me on his camcorder with an obvious sense of delight. I really think that delight was because of the situation. It was during a full whiteout sandstorm, so I had on my hat, green colored goggles and particle mask, and dust was flying by as I was sitting and playing - and I think he thought that was cool.

Actually it was a pretty cool scene. new gimmick is performing in inclement weather!!

Very instructive.

Inauthenticity alert: suspect spotted hiding behind technical prowess to avoid vulnerablility.

Translation: It's nice to be good, but it means nothing if you got no heart.

I've lots of work to do on that one. I'm realizing it not only affects my music, but shows up in my personal relationships -- that's onerous…a catch 22 if ever there was one, since my technique obviously needs work there.

The temple has been fascinating me, ever since I read about it long ago....

As I mentioned, people write things on the temple walls, and then at the end of the week they burn the temple. I'm told the ceremony has a sacred air to it, and some people that are at the temple burn have very emotional reactions, and it uplifts them in some way.

So early in the week I went out to the temple when all was quiet. I wanted to get my little bit in. I thought about the reasons that I had for coming out to the desert this summer, and what I'm trying to accomplish in my own little journey. Here's how I explained my temple visit to my friends on facebook one cold dawn from center camp:

Yesterday I took the journey out, meandering about a mile by foot with no particular mission.....

....and out of dumb luck, ended up there. When I realized I was at the Temple, I asked to borrow a woman's marker, and on an almost blank wall, I wrote the following: "Fuck Fear, Fuck Loneliness (in a box crossed out), Music!! (in a heart) ...and in another place (not pictured) -- Fuck Repression."....

When I came out of my focused moment, I could see the woman was obviously having a very tearful, emotional moment after what she had written, and I said, "Could I hug you?", and we hugged. I could tell she appreciated it. I think it helped her feel connected and comforted.

It's a very powerful place.

...broad strokes for sure, and - in retrospect - kind of angry ones, don't you agree? It's funny how anger can seep out of my pores without being directly detectable to me in the moment...

Later as I was walking back to camp, I was thinking about how angry and reactionary that seemed, and how I should send something out in the burn that was more about gratitude.

I stopped past 'More Fun Less Suck', as I often would on the way back to my modest digs, and Reklaw was there. Reklaw is a beautiful young woman with an interesting accent. She has a Meg Tilly vibe (sort of a Marilyn Monroe, breathy voice quality) but with very focused intelligent content in her words. More on this later....

Reklaw: "Would you like a fortune cookie?"

"Sure". (I brought - like - 12 cans of tuna and a chunk of cheese, so that's a real treat)

When I opened up the cookie and read the fortune, I knew I had unfinished business at the Temple…

Friday, September 10, 2010

Theme for an Imaginary Western - Part 3

Part three: 'Welcome Home".

As far as the car's concerned, this thump is most certainly a mechanical problem. I can't tell how loud it is outside the car, but it's definitely a loud sound inside the car. I'm looking at the people standing outside the car to see if they're reacting to it with any level of surprise. Nobody jumps when I shift.

That's good...

It is a change in the way it sounded - for sure. Fortunately, I don't see any dripping fluid, and it's still working fine, so I figure "what the hell" -- I'm just going in. As long as it'll start at the end of the week, and I can get it out of here, we'll sort it out then…

When you get there, you're in a huge line - and even given that people are waiting - they ask you "are you a virgin?" meaning a first time 'burner'.

I say "In every respect." (By the way, I heard you do revert back after a while.)

"We'd like you to get out of the car and ring the bell". They have an old empty lead compressed gas canister with a sawed off bottom hanging from above the gate which they escort me to, and I'm instructed to hit it with a beater they hand you - "as hard as you can". You then lie down in the very, very dusty soil, and you make a 'dust' angel. When you stand up, you're filthy, and everyone hugs you, and they all say "welcome home".

As a matter of fact, whenever some one asks you if it's your 'first burn' they often follow your answer with "welcome home." It really feels great.

I'm only at the entrance point, I already like the fact that the aesthetic content of the moment -- the 'art' of it - supersedes the fact that other people are waiting in line -- and that the welcome is definitely genuine. When I wake up the next morning after pitching the tent and sleeping a long sleep, I notice that I'm still hearing that sound of the ringing bell dinging in the distance, and that constant ringing would continue for days to come.

When I ride in, I'm looking at and navigating in a grid that has been cordoned off into a semicircular grid of streets....

The city is roughly about half the size of the downtown San Francisco (I've seen this overlay map that shows that), so it's huge. It's about 14,000 feet in circumference, which is about 2.65 miles from one side to the other, so that bike would have come in quite handy. Over the week, I will walk that distance many times over.

I finally eye a spot which is pretty damn close to the center of things, and I negotiate with a guy named 'Novus' for a little spot in his and his friends' area. I'm not crazy about Novus upon first meeting, but the spot is really great, and they finally say that I can park my car right there once we figure out some logistics, and I've got good shielding from the wind. The wind is supposed to be intense at times. I'll actually tie the tent to the car for added safety.

The funny thing is that I never saw Novus again...

I don't know about Novus' name, but as it turns out, many of your veteran burners have 'playa names', so as I'm introduced to people in the coming days, they are named things like 'Smalls', 'Pear Bear', 'Quiet', 'Jugger', and 'reklaw'. I just use my regular name.

Also people set up their camps and give their camps names. I'm directly across from "The Super Friends", and catty-corner to me is "More Fun, Less Suck"....

More Fun, Less Suck have a good setup, they have a shade structure right on the street....

.....and they sit there with a megaphone yelling at people who come by, inviting them in for a drink or asking the men 'to show us your tits' (very good success rate there). As luck would have it, many of the women are already topless.

As for dress, everything is about costumes. Burning Man has the feel of a halloween party that goes on for a week. 'No-No' from the 'More Fun Less Suck' camp pops up from her chair from time to time and says, pointing her finger in the air, "Time for a costume change!" and subsequently reappears in 5 minutes in something new. Other folks are less exuberant or spontaneous about it - but still into it in a big way, and some people assume a personna which they continue in for the entire week. Many times the women are very sexily clad, bustiers, heels, or nothing at all...

God bless Burning Man! You're told to be very respectful about pictures - which I appreciate - so I don't have any of those kinds of photos that I would share - even the ones where I asked if it's OK I take. Some men walk around naked as well, but of course that's not anything that catches my eye.

Amongst all this, I'm definitely the clueless one. I have a hat from Sears - bought at the last minute - which I hate, and a pair of kid's swimming goggles that are lime green. I use a construction particle mask from a hardware store for windstorms....

Everything else is my regular clothes. In other words, I got nothin'. I put zero thought into it, and for the first time - even though I'm not big on Halloween - I kind of wish I had. People are mostly fine with my underwhelmingness, but I certainly see how I'm the 'plain jane' of the playa.

Plus I have no shade structure, I'm on the bad side of the street (with respect to the sun exposure), so there's no hanging at my place. Plus, I have a teenie tent which is getting filthier by the hour....

.....and I'm not a veteran. When the veterans talk about past years, or "what is so-and-so up to?", I'm lost. It's the opposite of my 'real' life in NYC (or what burners would call the "default world").

I am the lowest value person on the playa for sure.

Thus, I have to go hang out with other people - just show up and sit down. You can only spend so much time alone in a small tent in 100 degree weather before you simply have to impose on someone's hospitality -- and to me it feels like imposition. They say it isn't, and in the abstract, it's obvious that there is more hospitality, tolerance and welcoming here than in the 'default world', but I can still detect that some people can take me or leave me, to put it kindly.

At 'More Fun Less Suck' I have a mentor in 'NoBooty'...

...and his partner 'Chopper'....

They are Rangers - in other words they are the Black Rock 'police' - so to speak. There are offical Nevada Sheriffs on the scene, but the Rangers are the first line in keeping the peace and controlling the crowds. The rangers hold the order of the city together surprisingly well. It's an all volunteer group, and they are all 'burners' just like anyone else there, who decided to volunteer to help out. Nobooty - who is a 10 year burner - tells me what to expect, both as the week progresses, and also in the way to experience every event ('stand with the wind to your back at the burn', for example).

It seems, Nobooty tells me, some of the nudity will abate as the weekend draws near due to the presence of the 'yahoo' crowd, which is generally the locals that come in over the weekend to yell and scream. They aren't real 'burners' in the veteran's eyes, since they don't love the art and lifestyle as much as they love a big party with lots of women and dancing.

Crap. I was enjoying that nudity. Now I hate yahoos too!

The culture is jokingly touted as 'openly corrupt'. One day I'm at the ice store: long line. One of the workers there with a megaphone announces that because a woman has brought them drink mix and alcohol she gets to cut to the front of the line. Imagine that in a block long line in New York City…. Here: cheers erupt as she's escorted forward.

I go to the post office (yes, Black Rock City actually has 2 post offices). Seeing my mail, the reticent woman postal worker there (who is behind the counter topless) asks, "What have you got to give me?". I finally get her to agree to take my mail when I agree to walk out on the Esplanade for 30 minutes and tell passing people about the Post Office.

Center Camp is a very cool place (shown here in a sand storm)...

It is a circular building with an open roof that is shaded by strips of cloth and clothing which has a lot of art in it. There are two stages right opposite each other, one has comedians and the other has 24 hour-a-day music. In the middle is a circular spot where people do yoga, or dance. There are people giving massages, and other bodywork, and the coffee place is in there. Plus a lot of people are asleep in there, lying on the floor. There are couches and tables and chairs all over the place, and everything is really dusty....

You gotta love dust here. In a way it's kinda cool -- like living life inside of a movie. 'Mad Max' meets 'Woodstock' maybe.

I spend time in Center Camp in the early mornings listening to acoustic performances at sunrise. It's the only time a primitive Internet connection they have at Center Camp is fast enough to allow even the simplest activities -- and I'm taking the edge off loneliness by being in touch with friends on Facebook.

Artsy, Fartsy:
The art at Burning Man, by the way, is amazing. I have never seen anything quite like it, and New York is known to have some of the best museums and exhibitions in the world….and I don't just mean from the standpoint of uniqueness, I mean I've never witnessed a spectacle this compelling, exciting, creative, engaging....

Part of it is it's sense of whimsey, a quality which in this incarnation can only be manifested by a community. No single great artist could get it this right. I have many pictures, but it's like trying to film the Grand Canyon. Like photos of the Grand Canyon, the best picture will never come close to creating the sensation of being out on the Playa seeing all this stuff happening at once. It's huge. Everything is burning. Unexplainable. Especially at night.

And the so called 'mutant vehicles' are fantastic! The DMV (you guessed it - 'department of mutant vehicles') actually licenses all the conveyances that aren't bicycles, and you aren't allowed to drive anything on the inner playa itself, except a bicycle or one of the art cars, and they must be severely modified in some way to qualify for licensing:

In the middle of all this stands 'the man', that will be burned on Saturday night. The figure is at least 100 feet tall in total and stands on a large platform that has 3 floors of stairs so you can walk up to just below the man:

At the back of the circle that is the City, out on the other end of the open Playa, is the temple. People go to the temple and write intentions, goodbyes, eulogies, and other meaningful things on the temple walls. The temple will burn on Sunday night:

All in all, I am so glad to I came to see and be a part of this. It really does feel like "welcome home".

Yes, These are my people.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Theme for an Imaginary Western - Part 2

Part 2: Conclusion (pt 1)/The beginning and a rough start


"Begin with the end in mind" - A smarter man than me once said that.

So bear with me while I conclude before we begin...

As we dive in to the deep end, it bears saying that I am basically a happy person, probably more so than most people you'll meet. I don't want you to imagine me out on some ledge somewhere.

That having been said, still I want to grow, and to search out the dark corners of my psyche to best self-actualize myself in the time I have left in this life.

So what became of me - in this experience in the Nevada desert - relates to what I am looking for in that search. A lot of people go to Burning Man simply to have a crazy fun good time, but for me it is a little different.

I remember many years ago having an exchange with a quiet student who had been studying with me for a long, long time. I said to him offhandedly one day in the course of a conversation that was music/life related: "…of course, I'm not a very spiritual person". He piped up and interrupted uncharacteristically, and said "You're the most spiritual person I know!"

Well, I don't know about that....but it helped me to readjust my thinking about myself afterwards. I was thinking about religion, he wasn't. He actually opened a door for me.

Lately I have been looking to create a stronger spiritual center for myself. A spiritual center includes - I think - a place for my 'baser' desires/lower chakras…whatever you want to call them. Not just sexual ones either. I had an epiphany on the plane back from Maui when I was reading about sex and the chakras in 'Be Here Now'.

That epiphany was this: that repressing those desires is as bad as - or worse than - overindulging them. Repression is not transcendance. Not that anyone actually said that to me, but I can testify to it because of the life I've lived.

Repressing your love for the people and passions in your life is worse still….the ultimate crime against yourself.

Repression was the law of the land as a military school cadet, and it stuck - big time. Except for the dormant seed that must have been waiting to propagate its weed inside, I was a freer spirit before my military school experience began. Yet life was so crushingly harsh there that the only way to make it through was to keep your head down and keep a low profile -- or -- take as many people out as you committed your own virtual suicide, kamikaze style. I chose the former.

The thing I didn't realize then was that the head-down style is also a form of virtual suicide. Assassinating the self to keep peace in the situation is not wholesome.

In the recent past I have been looking at my life, and examining hard to gain perspective about what the things are that hold me back and how I can address those things to move into a more self-expressed place.

Mission: to conquer those old patterns and habits….
Status: ongoing.

This has led me to a couple of conclusions in that regard -- and conclusion number one is that I have a problem with inauthenticity. We all do things where we are inauthentic, and there's no problem…'yes that dress looks fine/no you don't look fat/nice performance'......whatever. That's the human condition.

Lately though, I have become very aware of how it permeates much of the actions that I do - and don't - take. My freedom is compromised. Plus a lot of it is inward, meaning I lie to myself about what I want and need - probably to avoid the discomfort of not having it, the fear of trying and failing, or the dishonor of not having provided it. The subject can be anything: friends, relationships, success -- you name it.

Conclusion 2 is that the negative effect of old patterns in my life are, at times, making me live small. For example, I have a pattern of not entering into relationships of different types (business/romantic/friendship/etc.) because of the possible downsides, and especially since I have all this hard data about how wrong they've gone for me in the past. Aggregate result: life unlived.

To look at the way these patterns work, you have to also look at not only the downsides, but what the 'benefits' are - because whether one knows it or not, there are perceived upsides. For instance, in the pattern I just described, there is the perception of safety and/or control that is an 'upside'.

And that segues into the third conclusion also stemming from fear. I tend to hold court on my own turf.

For example, you come to my space in New York City, and you're likely to say "This is amazing" -- There are cool views, and it's a cool space. I'll play you a little snippet of one of my projects, and the sound system and composing is likely to impress you. Down the hall I've got a great Steinway which I can play pretty well, and as I show you around, I'll usually play enough to prove myself.

The other day a friend came by for the first time, and as I was playing her my newest project, she said "Who hooked all this up for you?", and was quite stunned to hear that I did it - and understood it all - myself. That's one I hadn't even thought about.

It's a good setup (click to enlarge):

But what would it feel like to plunk myself down in the middle of the Nevada desert, having traveled there all alone, without any of those props that I have in my life? What would it be like to just get real, with some people I've never met? Work without a net. Could I even do it? How .... and/or ... will they accept me?

ON THE ROAD: August 30th, 2010 11:30 PM
Well, I will tell you....that as I barreled down interstate 80 - alone - into the pitchblack darkness of the Nevada countryside at 70+ MPH headed East, for god-knows-where, with no destination in mind and Dave Matthews screaming "Don't Drink the Water" on the CD player turned up to 11......I felt the kind of fright you feel watching the buildup in a thriller movie as I bolted into the desert night.

When I landed earlier in the sleepy Reno Airport at 10:18 PM...

...I was very happy to find a wonderful little Burning Man booth set up in the airport, and I had a long conversation with one of the women manning the booth. "What was the camping like?" I asked her, "do you just stay next to your car?" Since I still had a day left when I would be gathering supplies and I had to fend for myself inexpensively overnight, I asked, "were there any truck stops where you can just stay in your car overnight?". They talked amongst each other and asked around to people in earshot and had some vague ideas.

'This is really great', I thought. 'Everyone's so friendly'.

As I'm talking, I catch the eye of the attendant at the car rental place that I'm going to. 'Isn't this nice' I think, they're right there, 'yay!' When walk over to her, I see that at this vendor, (and every vendor there, since they are all clumped together) there are big handwritten signs that say "You cannot take our cars to Burning Man." Big fees will be incurred for those that do.

I just traveled 2000 miles to come to this thing, and you didn't tell me this until now?

Fuck that.

"What brings you to Reno?" the rental woman says, having just seen me at the BM booth.

"I'm visiting friends."

"Uh, huh…..", she says, a little skeptical.

Dodged a bullet there...I think...saying it out loud definitely won't help.

Her: "Do you want the insurance? We recommend full coverage on the replacement cost of the car."


Her: "here are your keys, your car is in parking spot h-8"

So with that, I enter into the perilous waters of taking a car to a place it shouldn't go. I don't like this feeling - I don't like this one bit…insurance won't cover situations where there was a breach of contract. I'm sure of that.

As I go down the freeway, I decide that I will stop at a place where I can ask if there are any truck stops nearby. On the East coast they are big sprawling busy places where you can just pull up and sleep in a dark corner.

Once out in the Nevada countryside, I walk into the store off of exit 39 - it's open, but completely deserted. Weird. Were they just robbed or something? I hear noises from another room, and when I go in, I'm looking at 5 of the scariest looking guys I've seen in a long time, and one - to me at least - very unattractive bar fly type woman standing at a pool table in a smoke filled room. One lone guy plays a slot machine intensely in the corner, not bothering to look up.

I stand there - for what seems like an eternity - looking at them before someone speaks up:


"Um, I was wondering if you knew where there was a truckstop nearby, or a place where I could get something to eat?"

"Well, there's a Wendys at exit 43."
the angriest guy says.

"Anything else?"

The woman pipes in about something in the other direction, and I like her idea a little better.

Hearing me perk up, the angry guy interjects, modulating loudly, "WELL, WHICH WAY ARE YOU GOING?"

Yes I'm intimidated. The real answer is "I don't give a shit, anywhere is there some non-crap food"...

"Uh, east." I say.

So I end up at the Wendys -- awful. I stand in line behind a bunch of high school kids who are talking about their lives - and eavesdropping, I take in the conversation. One of them shows this really bad wound he has on his hand. He's proud of it, and loves trying to gross out his friends.

In his defense, it is pretty disgusting.

Even though they're blocking me and not really moving forward, they ignore me completely. There's a 'you-ain't-from-around-here' vibe in the air. I get this really depressed feeling. 'This is deadendsville', I think. The food is AWFUL. Even for a Wendy's. As hungry as I am, I can barely choke it down. Finally I find a rest stop on the Interstate and hunker down for a night in the car. It is SO cold, and I don't have enough clothes to get warm, even taking everything out I've got with me.

It's summer, so I've got no hat, no scarf, 2 pairs of long pants and a few shirts, but only one of which is long sleeve. Yes, I've been watching the NV forecasts in this area, but this wasn't on the menu. I'm in trouble, I think. Good thing I'll be getting supplies in Reno, I'm making a mental note to get some long underwear and a scarf and hat.

I end up sleeping in fits and starts using one of my t-shirts as a scarf, and the other as a makeshift hat. Thankfully I'm still retaining my sense of humor, and so I keep laughing at how uncomfortable I am. I've made a promise to myself not to run the car for heat, and I don't, since I'm not going to have that luxury when I get out to Black Rock. I want to know what I'm up against.

Middle of the night, going a little mad, suffering through the cold:

Man, this is going downhill fast....

The next morning when I come into Reno for supplies, it's rainy and depressing. Everyone's out of things. Almost everything is a challenge, or way too much money, or too far, whatever. Sears, where I've bought a cooler I'm planning to throw away at the end doesn't have a knit cap or long underwear for God's sake! I finally give up. Fuck It.

Spoiler alert #1: that was not a good idea.

I post all this to my facebook page, and when comments are forthcoming I get the idea fast that my people are worried about me. Whoops, 'it's not that bad, guys', I write to placate the worry I've just stirred up. Plus the sun has just come out, which helps - a lot.

However...I'm really itching to get to Black Rock City.

So I decide: that's it, I'm going - NOW. Forget about everything else, forget about the time (it's too early and they'll likely hold you in a staging area and then send you to the end of the line). I don't care, I want to see the landscape before dark, I'll deal with whatever happens.

So by 6 PM I'm on the road east headed for the playa.
['playa' is defined in the dictionary as an area of flat, dried-up land, esp. a desert basin from which water evaporates. This playa was an ancient lake bed. By the way, it's not pronounced 'play'-ah, it's pronounced 'ply'-ah.]

I get to a small town called "Empire" which is about 20 miles from the venue, and my mood lifts suddenly. There is a big party going on. People are dancing in the highway, Everyone has a piercing, or dreadlocks, or tattoos, and it's just fun.

A truck drives by towing a vehicle that looks like a cow.... ....and I KNOW I'm in the right place.

This is COOL. There are vendors.

One crusty local type tries to sell me 'Black Rock Wine'. 30$. "I'll think about it." I say as nicely as I can. "Yeah right" the guy says, being rather condescending. No problem, nothing's going to screw up this moment, I think.

I start talking to a girl and asking her about whether I should go on. She says. "no, no - just hang out - You're going to piss people off if you show up early, and nobody wants that". So for about an hour I bide my time, just sitting in the car….but then I'm antsy, and decide to move on - at least to the next town - which is called "Gerlach" and is about 12 miles from the venue.

I meet a woman vendor who lives in Gerlach that says "I heard a rumor that they're letting people in early this year." She's selling bikes for $50, which they refurbish each year for the event, but I don't have a bike rack on the car so I can't do it. Sure wish…

Spoiler alert #2: You need a bike at this place.

But thats all I need to know. I'm outta here...

I head down to the gate, where the road begins, and just as I'm arriving at the turnoff...... I hear a very loud bang, when a rock hits the bottom of the car. "That was loud", I think, but the car keeps moving so I put it out of my mind. When get to the gate where the greeters are I shift into park, and hear a VERY loud thump...

I try it again. Loud thump. Once more, loud thump. It becomes like the tooth where the cavity fell out and you can't keep your tongue off of it. I keep trying this shift. Something's definitely busted.