P.S. Bullet Points

I know I said I had posted my final comments on Burning Man, but while unpacking my gear from the trip, I came across the little notebook I kept in my backpack during my time in Black Rock City. I carried it with me so that if I encountered something or someone that I wanted to remember, I could write it down in the book.

In reading through my notes, some of them are so cryptic I can’t recall what exactly they were referring to. Some, on the other hand, are quite clear (to me, anyway) and the memories associated with them are priceless.

But the collection of thoughts and words looks so intriguingly bizarre on paper that I thought I would share them here. So here you have it: my Burning Man experience described in bullet points: Read On

Super Girl

I went to pick up my kids tonight after work, leaving the office and getting on the freeway with the onset of a headache. It had been a long day, and to be honest, I was not looking forward to the ordeal of cooking dinner, getting homework done, showers taken, lunches made for tomorrow… I wanted nothing more than to just go home and lie down and make the headache go away.

I pulled into the driveway of their mom’s house, and cut the engine. I took a deep breath, let it out in a long rush, my head bowed and my eyes closed, hoping that this was not the start of a migraine. I said a quick prayer for patience and willingness. I opened the car door and stepped out.

As I turned to walk toward the porch, I stopped in my tracks. A completely unexpected smile started to form on my face as my weary brain began to register what it was I was looking at. My fatigue was gone in an instant as I took in the vision before me.

My seven-year-old daughter, Makena, was strolling down the driveway toward me. She wore a bright orange pareo – knotted around her neck so it flowed behind her – as a cape. Beneath it she wore a blue t-shirt with little yellow chicks shown beneath the words “Hanging With My Peeps”. She wasn’t wearing any pants, but instead wore a pair of her brother’s underwear briefs. And on her feet:  a pair of brown suede pumps – her mother’s shoes, several sizes too big for her little feet.

She walked like a newborn colt or a barfly at closing time: unsteadily, shakily, but with utter pride. The look on her face was a combination of intent focus (on walking in heels), utter glee (in her outrageous attire), and pure delight (to see me). I could not help but laugh out loud with the same glee and delight.

I met her halfway across the driveway and gave her a big hug, and asked her with a chuckle, “Makie, where are your pants?” to which she calmly replied, “In my room.” Question asked and answered.

I kissed her, hugged her again, and took another look at her outfit. “You look fantastic, honey” I said, and she replied, “Thank you.”

“Go get your brother,” I said, and off she went, her cape flowing behind her like capes are meant to. I noticed she was already getting the hang of the heel-toe, heel-toe, heel-toe method of walking in those shoes. They grow up so fast. 

Minutes later, she came back out, the cape and pumps gone, replaced by grey sweatpants and no shoes. She and Hayden both loaded their backpacks in the back of the car. Hayden was the first to cry, “I call D.J.!”, which meant that he got to control the iPod on the drive. It also meant that Makena got to ride “Shotgun!”, because that is the fair trade: whoever gets to be D.J., the other one gets to ride shotgun. I don’t remember exactly when that treaty was brokered, but it tends to keep the peace so I don’t mess with it.

On the drive to my place, as Cee Lo Green was singing the very family-unfriendly but unbelievably catchy song “F**k You”, I reduced the volume, turned to Makena and asked her something. “Makena, when you came outside dressed in the cape, who were you supposed to be?” I asked.

She was looking out the windshield, not at me, and she said, “Whadda you mean?”

I had thought she would have some funny name for her character, the way kids do – something made-up and spontaneous and silly. “When you were dressed in the cape and stuff – were you supposed to be a superhero of some kind?”

She looked at me funny, as though I’d opened my mouth and said the most ridiculous thing. The look said lovingly, “Oh Father, you silly man, I adore you but you do struggle so…”

What she actually said to me was, “No. I was supposed to be me.” Then turned to look out the window again, and said “Can you turn the music back up please?”

I turned the music up and we drove along, going from the funky refrains of “the F.U. song” to the disco beats of Lady Gaga admonishing her boyfriend for telephoning her while she’s at the club. Jack Johnson followed shortly thereafter, and eventually there was some Sia thrown in – Hayden is a very versatile D.J. 

I realized after five or six songs – my headache was gone.

As we drove, I thought about Makena’s comment, and my heart swelled up with love. The kid marches to the beat of her own drum, and that is so awesome. I was reminded of an assignment she’d done while in Kindergarten two years before. We were at Open House Night near the end of the school year, and I was walking around her classroom, looking at all the art work and papers posted on the walls by all the students. One of the assignments was to write “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up.” I looked for Makena’s paper, and when I found it, I had that same feeling of my heart swelling with love for my little girl. Her answer was so beautiful, so simple, so honest.

“When I grow up, I just want to be me”, the paper read.

I wrote at the time that I hoped her answer would never, ever change. I am so happy to see that, two years later, it hasn’t.

A Flourish of Hate

It sounds like a real bummer topic for a blog entry, but relax – it was just a writing prompt I saw on creativewritingprompts.com yesterday. I briefly toyed with the idea of naming this post the exact opposite to counteract the ugliness of the phrase – something like “A Fanfare of Love” – but that title made me want to throw up a little. 

“Craft a poem or story based on this metaphor: ‘a flourish of hate’.” Intriguing prompt, I thought. It sounded like it had potential. For some reason it conjured images of an eighteenth century bureaucrat signing a piece of oppressive legislation and signing it with a pen that had a long fluffy red plume that danced and swayed with his signature, which was all loopy and curvy and pretentious. As he signed it, he declared, “There you have it: a flourish (he rolled his r so it came out “flour-r-ish”) of hate! Ha-ha!”  Clearly this man would be the villain of the piece. He had rotten teeth and a powdered wig and bad skin and never married due to his poor hygiene – my mind put it all together instantly. So without hesitation (or regard to the fact that I know next to nothing about eighteenth century living so the piece was likely to suck hard), I typed it at the top of a page.

And it sat there.

The prompt sat at the top of the page, inviting me to communicate. Real friendly-like. “C’mon, man” it taunted. “Eighteenth century dude. Frilly pen. ‘Flour-r-ish’. It’s all here. Whatcha waiting for?”

I couldn’t write about it, despite feeling that I needed to. Eventually that little writing prompt began to feel like a person I started a conversation with and soon discovered I shouldn’t have. You know the scenario – you meet someone, they seem pleasant enough at first, but then after just a few minutes, you realize they’re kind of annoying, fairly ignorant, and borderline insane, and you start to fear for your safety, and before you know it you’re scanning the room for the exits and judging whether you can sprint to the door before they retrieve the knife they carry in their boot. We’ve all been there, right?

“A flourish of hate.”

The subject wouldn’t leave my mind. Even after the bureaucrat with the fancy pen faded from my mind and I was just left with those four words on a blank page, I started to wonder, “Why did I find that particular prompt out of the 346 total prompts displayed on that web page? Is there a message for me here? Why can’t I just pick another prompt? Why don’t I want to write about this? And what is the real reason I don’t want to write about it – the reason I won’t admit to myself?”

I can’t stand it when I wonder so much that I start to ask myself questions because it usually leads to work of some kind, but the truth is, if I am “stuck” on a thing, I usually have two reasons why: the first reason that I admit out loud, and the second, more powerful reason, that sometimes remains hidden even from me.

So I will write about “a flourish of hate.” But instead of the B.O.-ridden bureaucrat (his name would have been Thaddeus if he had lived), I have decided to write about my experience with hate. There may or may not be a flourish involved.

I have had hate in my heart. There, I admit it. You all heard it, you are all witness – I’ve hated before. I am not talking about my dislike of brussel sprouts or my disdain for the state of American popular music today. I’m talking about pure, unadulterated, seething hatred – the kind of hate that obliterates all rational thought and replaces it with a dark energy that flows out from my body and kills houseplants with its toxicity. Huh-ate.

It’s not the kind of hate that gets lots of airplay on the news – not the broad, generalized version found in hate-crimes, the crippling hatred of racism – nothing of that scale. It’s more like the personal kind of hate that often gets depicted in literature or films. It’s my own private hatred of a few individuals. A select list of people who have one thing in common: my scorn.

Names? You want names? Come on, people, you don’t think I’d be that classless here, do you? First of all, they would mean nothing to you – I could list names like John Fairmore and Ed Lindstrom and Ariel Quackenbush and you would just wonder, “Are those real people? Did he just change their names? What did they do to him? Does he really know someone with the surname ‘Quackenbush’?” (Answers: No, they’re not real; I made up the names; they did nothing to me; and no I don’t know the Quackenbushes).

Besides – the objects of my hate are unimportant, because my hate is not about them. This is a truth that took a long, long time for me to understand. My hate is simply that: mine. It’s about me.

It isn’t anger I’m dealing with. Anger, my friend Rich tells me, is a God-given emotion that is directing our attention to something that isn’t working. Rich is a physicist and one of those scary-smart people that could make me feel incredibly stupid if he wanted to but he never does, and in fact he is one of the most accepting people I have ever met. Anger, says Rich, is a feeling, and feelings are not facts; they are neither good nor bad, they are just “indicators”. He’s always saying cryptic things like this and I nod like I understand and then ask him to explain what the hell that means.

Anger is healthy, he tells me. It is when we get to abusing it that it becomes the character defect of wrath – one of “the Seven Deadlies” as he refers to them.  “WRATH”. That word has always conjured images of dark, evil creatures with pointed tails and leathery wings that will steal me from my bed in the night and spirit me away to miserable places like fabric stores or the DMV.

Wrath seems to be kissing cousins with Hate. Can you have one without the other? I think not.

My ego will tell me that something as unsavory as “hate” is beneath me. My ego is a nasty little bugger who is constantly yammering crazy ideas in my head like a bratty little kid all hopped up on pixie sticks and Nyquil, and he likes to tell me, “Of course it’s about me! EVERYTHING is about me”. But that doesn’t apply to ugly character defects like wrath or hate – that’s not something my ego wants to own. Among all my baggage, the Hate Bag is the one that remains on the carousel, covered with tags from all the places it has been, going round and round, unclaimed, until finally alerting security and putting the airport on lockdown.

This bratty-little-kid (I call him Attila) says innocently, “Why, I don’t hate anyone! I could NEVER hate anyone, because I’m a Nice Guy!” The logic apparently being,

I am a Nice Guy.
Nice Guys don’t hate.
Ergo, I don’t hate.

Of course there is a word for this – denial. I know this, you know this, but sometimes there’s just no getting through to Attila. He’s usually too busy taking down names and cataloguing resentments for future reference.

So there is a list of people that have come and gone in my life for whom I have held absolute hatred. But here’s another truth that was hard for me to learn: Whatever the people on this list did –whether they actually did something, or whether I just imagine they did something – they did not do it to me. They just did something, and I hurt over it. That is the extent of it. What I do (I could blame Attila, but alas, Attila is just me) is I create my experience of it as one who was “done wrong”, who was “betrayed”, who was “victimized”, by the person in question. My whole focus becomes the other person’s actions instead of my own actions, and we all know which of those is within my control.

The question that I have to ask myself, when I get down to the simple facts of a matter, is “Why isn’t it okay for that person to be who he/she is? Why isn’t it okay for them to be flawed? To make the mistakes they made? To value something else more than they value me? To make choices I wouldn’t have made? Why isn’t it okay for them to be human?” And if I’m lucky, I’ll get around to asking, “Why am I letting their actions affect me so much?”

It is, of course, okay for them to be human. But if I focus only on my pain, I get angry. And if I dwell in my anger, I get hateful. And hate, Yoda would tell me, leads to the Dark Side. And if I honestly search my heart for the reasons why I hate, I usually find that there is something about myself that I am not addressing. Maybe I’ve been guilty of the same transgression for which I am condemning other person. Maybe I recognize I’m capable of committing the same mistakes as they are. Maybe I never realized that my own grandiosity made it impossible for these people to live up to such unrealistic expectations in the first place. Maybe I’m not telling the truth about my own flawed, human existence. Maybe I have the same potential for assholery as anyone else does.

These are truths I admit out loud. I share them with people freely. But as I mentioned, there is usually another truth, one that remains hidden, sometimes hidden even from myself. The truth about my hatred that I don’t admit out loud is: I hate because I choose to. And I choose to because it’s easier.

It’s easier to blindly hate someone else than it is to own my defects of character. It’s easier to hate that person who “betrayed” me because then I get to play the victim and blame my troubles on that person. It’s easy to be judge, jury and executioner to that person because then I don’t have to look at my self-centered fear. It’s easier to make the other person “bad” and “wrong” and deny their humanness than it is to acknowledge that I’m simply refusing to see it any other way. That, after all, is the essence of forgiveness: to see it another way.

I can always choose to see it another way, or I can choose to hang on to the pain, thereby ensuring the hatred thrives. How I create the experience is up to me. I get to choose, and I often forget that I have a choice.

I don’t think I could’ve written this much about Thaddeus and his oppressive governance. I see there was another purpose for my stumbling upon that writing prompt. I reckon it is up to the reader to determine if there was actually “a flourish of hate” in this post. It certainly didn’t end up being about what I thought it would when I began. I guess the purpose here was not about experiencing creative writing but to write about creating experience.

Next time, it might be more fun for me to go with a simpler, basic writing prompt – like, “What I Did On My Summer Vacation”, because there’s lots of interesting stuff to write about there. Like this one time, at Burning Man…

An Offering at the Temple of Flux

A canyon is where I received it, and a canyon is where I let it go.

I make the pilgrimage to the Temple with my offering in my bag. My hope is to achieve a symbolic release, to let go of the past, as that is basis of the message I have been receiving for the better part of the past year: let go. Everyone has advice for me on how to deal with divorce. Many have walked that path before me, and I find myself seeing them in a new light. I am grateful for their counsel, even if some of it (“Man, the best way to get over one woman is to get under another one”) is not exactly pearly wisdom. I know they mean well.

The sun is low in the afternoon sky as I make my way across the desert floor to the wooden structure known as the Temple of Flux. Upon seeing it for the first time, I am reminded of canyons: it rises from the playa in a whitewashed swirl of plywood, rounded and uneven, natural lines and rustic shapes that do, actually, look like canyon walls.

The name alone speaks to me, for I am, indeed, a man in flux. The canyon-like appearance, though – that is just too much to be coincidence. A canyon is where I received it. This does not feel like random chance. It seems to be a message to me. A message that came down from the eye of the Universe in a flash of light, straight to planet Earth, hurtling towards the western portion of the North American continent and the rugged Nevada desert to come to a silent, peaceful impact in the middle of a prehistoric lake bed, waiting for my dusty boots to carry me down the temporary street to the space where this man-made canyon sits awaiting my arrival. I am one of thousands of others here for similar purpose, and yet this Temple holds a message just for me. A message of light from Beyond that tells me, “This is the place. This is the place where you can go through.” Read On

Rave Review

I know that hundreds of thousands of people have been to Burning Man before me. My attendance at the 25th Burn this year is certainly nothing new or noteworthy to anyone but me – I’ll stipulate this up front, so that my incessant commentary over the coming days is grounded in the awareness that yes, I know I keep talking about it and yes, I know you’re likely sick of hearing about it. So we’ve gotten that out of the way. We cool? Good.

So yeah, Burning Man – wow. There was just so much. Too much to write about in one sitting. My mind was blown about six hours after I arrived Tuesday morning. Then the sun went down, and my rational mind just checked out for about the next two days. I got my awareness back by Thursday and just had the most awesome time. Read On