Thursday, September 30, 2010

On Happiness, Rainbows, and Icebergs

I usually write by the “Poison Snake” method, in other words: I wait until the inspiration jumps out and bites me, and then I write.  Since coming back from Burning Man, I’ve wondered what to write about.  Things have been pretty normal:  I’ve run the gamut from despair to contentment, even felt bliss at times.  I’ve surfed the waves of relationships, and have fallen off the board a few times over the last couple of weeks, while triumphantly staying upright at other times when the waves hit. Mainly I’ve just been doing my thing: working, playing, loving, making mistakes, doing the right thing. Big whoop. Nothing exciting to write about there. So I asked sweetie today: “What should I write about?” Not fair, I know. It’s my art, and I should take responsibility for it. But my self-imposed deadline is coming up tomorrow and inspiration is out hunting field mice, for all I know. So I asked, and the answer was: “Write about something happy!” 

Of course, me being an Overthinker, my immediate response was “Why, Is my blog not happy enough?”, a question which he, smartly, did not answer. We won’t get into the rest of the conversation, but this exchange brought something up for me that’s probably a part of my resistance to writing. I feel like this blog – and by extension, myself – is a bit of a downer. I feel like I should be happier and write about happier stuff, like sunsets and rainbows. Really, I’m not being sarcastic. I do want to be able to craft beautiful, uplifting words about the loveliness of nature and the basic, core goodness that exists in all of us. Because I actually believe in those things and think they’re important. 

But something stops me.

I think the thing that stops me is a deep feeling that , while happy, light topics can be important and inspirational, they’re  easy to appreciate and to write about;  but what I feel compelled to explore – in my own life and in my writing – is the deeper current, the stuff that’s more complicated, intricate, sometimes hard to appreciate and even dark.  I love rainbows, who doesn’t? But if I were to write about one, I’d write about the beauty AND the shadow side of the rainbow. I can’t help it. It’s in my blood. 

To me, the beauty of life includes the darkness and the things that are hard, unexpected, or intense. In my own life, the most powerful lessons have come from difficult situations, even when it’s taken me years to digest the lesson. But I also know that more people want to read about rainbows and goodness than about struggling with intense emotions or difficult feelings, or even of exploring the nuances and complexities of a situation. I’m often the one trying to fill in the shades of grey to other peoples’ black and white understanding of people or situations – often to the frustration of the person I’m talking to. I can’t hold grudges for very long because I can understand other peoples’ motivations so well. I can’t write about blissful beauty without acknowledging the other things that come along with it, even if just my own complexities of mood as I observe the rainbow. 

But then I wonder if my propensity to swim in the ocean of complexity and nuance – to acknowledge all facets of a situation, including the difficult – actually contribute to my frequent depressions and other mood troubles. Maybe they’re right, that optimists are happier, that if you look on the bright side, good things will come to you. I know people of whom this seems true. 

Perhaps I should try to write about rainbows more frequently, or things that bring simple joy without complexity or darkness. I’m not sure; I don’t want to subvert my particular gifts at seeing  the whole iceberg, but I also don’t want to crash into the iceberg and sink into an ocean of despair. Maybe there’s a balance to be struck between swimming in the dark waters and basking in the sunlight that breaks through the clouds and creates the rainbow. 
The photo at the beginning of this post was taken by Scott Locker, follow his blog here

Friday, September 17, 2010

Back from the Desert

Like last year, I'm not sure how to start writing about my Burning Man experience. There's so much, and nothing I write will really encompass the actual experience. But I suppose that's true of any experience. 

Imagine starting out before dawn, and arriving, after 3-hour drive into the desert, in a swelter of dust, to the other side of the moon, populated by aliens - beings dressed in costumes, furry vests, bug-eyed goggles, hot pants, with braided hair and tied all over with string, beads, and charms. You park your camper in between an Airstream shaded by a tarp and lit by christmas lights, and an old bus painted with blue waves. The air throbs with music and it's only 11 am. Friends are there and they greet you, and then you get to work making your new home habitable. And for the next week, you're out there in the grey alkali flats, surrounded by these creatures and the music, and the dust, and the surreal sculptures that look over it all, out there from the deep playa.

Pretty intense, no?

When people have asked me about Burning Man since I've gotten back, all I could say was 'It was intense.' It's the only word that even comes close to telling the truth. The truth is that it was a difficult time. That's not something Burners like to hear - that the experience wasn't really that great. Lover and I were lost in waves of  miscommunication and misunderstandings and tension, and finally had a big fight, in the middle of the week. Meanwhile, I was feeling that old social tension and anxiety that visits me more than I like to admit - surrounded by people who were close to one another, but with whom I've never been able to figure out how to make any inroads. I felt left out, but not because anyone actually left me out. Because that's my story and has been for my entire life. The killer is that I knew it was only my imagination, and I still couldn't get past it. At the kickoff first-night party, I froze up in social and personal terror and could barely participate, and this set the tone for the whole week. I still don't know why it happened. I could only stand by the burn barrel, on the outskirts of the camp, and pretend to be friendly when all I wanted to do was go curl up in my comfy bed in the camper and be safe. I felt unsafe and afraid, and I till can't figure out why - was it just that we had only landed a few hours prior and I was still transitioning to this new world? Was it because I had been feeling such tension with my partner? Was it hormonal?

Of course I always want to add: "But there were good times, too!" Finally reconnecting with my love on Friday night, almost too late but not; bicycling out into the desert to look at the art and the great, old, wrinkled hills; moments with friends in the afternoon when people gather under the shade structures and hang out and talk; walking into the playa at night on the traditional evening walkabout, led by a man with a plastic lit-up sword; riding in the camp art car down the dusty streets to discover what we could discover, like bacon and avocado thrust at us from one camp, and a ball crawl and bad advice - and stencils!- in another. Exploring the city with my sweetie on our bikes and decorating one another with a rubberstamp that read 'tramp stamp', while drinking Snakebites; being visited unexpectedly by friends one morning at the camper, and having a relaxing morning (well, OK, it was after 11 am) drinking Heinekins and hanging out and talking.

The best time, honestly, was the last day in the desert when we decided to leave a day early - after helping break down camp, an effort that left us sprinkled with grey playa dust that seemed to age both of us by 40 years. My love had talked with the representative from the Bureau of Land Management - who had a camp across the street from us - and he had told us of a campsite and hot springs about 2 hours' drive up the playa and into the hills. So on Sunday, we left Burning Man, drove up the road a mile, and got back onto the playa, on a rutted track that went for 30 miles, skirting Black Rock City and curling into the brown hills peopled with jackrabbits and Russian thistle plants (better known as tumbleweeds.)

En route we realized we didn't have enough gas to make it to the campsite and back, and, as we pondered what to do, we rounded a curve and saw water, which literally made me gasp - water in the desert! It was a small reservoir, and we decided to camp there for the night, the way the old explorers and cowboys probably did, knowing that water was the symbol for safety and survival in the desert. It was quiet. No throbbing music, no people in costumes except for a couple of hunters in camo who drove past us on the gravel road. The wind whipped the water. We joked that this was like one of those movies where the couple is hunted by psychopaths while trying to survive in the wilderness. At night, the sky blazed with stars and, with no moon, Mars took over and was reflected in a silver path on the reservoir. We could see a faint glow in the blackness over by Black Rock City. Sweetie thought it was the Temple burning; I think it was just the lights of the city. A few coyotes yipped. But other than that, there was no sound.

In the spaceship of that camper, we heated up leftover lasagna, poured some cocktails, and talked about astronomy and astrology. We fell asleep to the wind rocking the camper like a mother rocks a cradle.

The next morning, we awoke to bright sunlight and silence - and to a flat tire. Luckily, my man did the manly thing and changed the tire while I made breakfast, and we dined on a blanket on the shore of the reservoir. After that, we emptied all of the water out of the van and camper, keeping only two Nalgene bottles full for drinking, and drove back to town, hoping we had enough gas to make it.

It's always been my contention that it's not an adventure if everything goes right. If everything goes right, it's just a trip.

We coasted back into Gerlach - whose combined population with the neighboring town of Empire is 499 - and into the town's only gas station right when the fuel gauge touched E. There was barely any line at the pumps, and then we were back on the highway, on our way home.