The Man burns in 16 days!!!

“THE MAN BURNS IN 16 DAYS!!”

SIXTEEN DAYS!!

We’ve been preparing for this “camping” trip since we bought the tickets in March.

It’s interesting how many people here in the Midwest have never heard of Burning Man. Growing up in Southern California, it’s as well-known as Vegas and Tijuana. (I’m sure you’ve heard of Vegas…Tijuana is a well-visited tourist trap on the border of San Diego and Mexico). Those that have heard of BM usually have the same reaction that I did initially–“isn’t that a hippie festival with lots of sex and drugs??” Just like the evening news shows only what’s most shocking to get your attention, the perception of the 7-day event has gotten boiled down to frivolousness.

It all started over an alcohol-infused July 4th party at a friend’s a year ago. We’re a fun group of over-grown middle-aged teenagers, and we were discussing our bucket lists. It was fascinating to hear how different each of our lists were. We decided right then and there that we would not only write down the #1 bucket list item on each of our lists, but that we would, in solidarity, do everything possible to help one another make their number one bucket list dream come true. Mine is learning to scuba dive; another’s is singing karaoke in a crowded bar; another’s is running a half-marathon; and so on. And my husband’s was “attend Burning Man.” We went around the group one-by-one, describing our choices and what they meant to us and why they were important to us.

I am a firm believer in validating people’s feelings and experiences, mostly because mine weren’t growing up. Years of therapy have made me aware of how necessary it is to validate one another on this planet. I have taken to heart each of my friends’ bucket list choices but unfortunately, we have not progressed to crossing any of the choices off any of our lists as of yet.

We are about to cross off a big one–I’m attending Burning Man with my husband next week!

In the five months that have transpired since we purchased the tickets (which, by the way, are incredibly expensive and almost impossible to get–30,000 tickets sold out in 35 minutes this past March) I have watched countless YouTube videos and read even more articles on “Surviving Burning Man” than my teenage daughter has watched episodes of “Futurama”. My emotions about BM continue to see-saw between utter panic and unbridled excitement. It’s a bigger-than-life adventure, and if you Google anything about BM, watch the videos of the art.

The biggest problem for me when people ask me “what’s Burning Man?” is trying to describe it. It’s not a festival. It’s not a sex-and-drug hippie free-for-all. What it is is hard to describe, and since I haven’t gone yet, the best I can do is explain that it is a camping trip like no other.

It takes place in a remote area somewhere in Nevada. People come from all over the planet to create a man-made city called Black Rock City that exists only one week a year. It is a journey of self-reliance, as there are no trees, no stores, nothing to buy or rent. You set up your camp and bring everything you need to survive in the harsh atmosphere of the “Playa”–the surface of the campground is a powdery dust made of alkaline and the temps reach in the hundreds during the day and dip to the fifties at night. Each person is recommended to bring a gallon and a half of water to drink a day–that’s about 20 gallons for the two of us–not to mention food for seven days. There’s no campfires allowed, and the most important of the 10 Principles of Burning Man are “leave no trace”. There are no trash cans.

The emphasis is on giving and participating. It’s not something you just go to and sit and watch. “Radical inclusion” is what it’s called, and my gift will be free life-coaching advice. Kind of like a Lucy from Peanuts giving psychiatric help for five cents. She’s no more qualified than I am but I’m planning on getting my certificate this fall.

All I know is, after hundreds of hours of Googling and YouTubing, it’s what you make of it. Burning Man is an ideology of leaving behind all competition, technology, and conveniences for one week to reconnect with your soul and your fellow man. I think of it like a shortened “Alone” (the History Channel series) but more fun and I won’t have to scavenge for any limpets.

The “man” in Burning Man is a gigantic effigy that stands for whatever you want it to stand for. To me, it means something similar to what Jack Black as Dewy Finn refers to in “School of Rock”: “…the world is run by The Man. The Man, oh, you don’t know the Man. He’s everywhere. In the White House, down the hall….M.s Mullins, she’s the Man. And the Man ruined the ozone, he’s burning down the Amazon, he kidnapped Shamu and put her in a chlorine tank! And there used to be a way to stick it to the Man. It was called rock-n-roll, but guess what oh no, the Man ruined that too with a little thing called MTV! So don’t waste your time trying to make anything cool or pure or awesome ’cause the Man is just gonna call you a fat washed up loser and crush your soul!”

The night before the final day, the Man at Burning Man is set ablaze. And whatever that means to each of us who will be present to see it destroyed will have an emotional reaction that I imagine will be indescribable. I can’t wait. It’s at the end of the event for good reason.

The following day, the Temple burns. The Temple is also constructed to be destroyed. People visit the Temple as pilgrimage for many reasons, such as pray for lost loved ones or to seek forgiveness for transgressions. Thousands and thousands of notes are written and left inside the Temple and on Sunday, the last day, the entire enormous structure is lit afire. I’ve heard that it is just as emotional as burning the Man.

Aw we continue to pack and gather up everything we’re going to need to survive not only a week in the desert but about 30 hours in the car each way, I have moments of sheer panic as well as excitement. I’m not a fan of port-a-potties but hey, it beats pooping in the bushes, so there’s that. I look forward to time alone with my husband on the road trip of a lifetime. We are two weeks away from becoming empty-nesters, and frankly, the timing couldn’t be better for us to go on this journey.

And yes, there will be AMAZING art, there will be music, there will be people who take drugs (unfortunately)and there will probably be half-naked people.
But that’s missing the point. For a princess like me who doesn’t really like camping at all, even with modern conveniences like having a shower nearby, this will be the ultimate test of my mettle. How flexible will I be, how resilient? How will I cope with all the challenges of self-reliance? I’ve heard that emotional breakdowns are common on the Playa and I’m already planning mine. I need to think ahead how I will handle the hard things. I already know there will be lots of fun things to do–making friends, visiting the different camps that offer everything from bracelet-making to “free hugs” to the infamous orgy-dome. With 61 pages of themes to choose from, if anything, we will have an intense case of FOMO because a week isn’t long enough to do and see everything.

Black Rock City will be an experience like no other, and I’ve heard that it’s so amazing people actually have a hard time transitioning back into mainstream society once it’s over. For all I know, I will be one of those people.

Having an open mind and a positive attitude is the most important thing I need to remember to bring to Burning Man. It’s as important as bringing enough food and water.

I plan on leaving my laptop at home and allowing myself to be in the present. I plan to write more on here when we return of course, and share my experiences with you. But for one week, there will be no cell phones, no TV, no news, no contact with the outside world whatsoever.

I CAN’T WAIT!!!!

Feel free to visit these sites to get you started. Maybe BM should be on YOUR bucket list!!!

burningman.org

How to be Happy

“Hold on loosely, but don’t let go,

If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control”

–38 Special

The lyrics to this 1981 song  came to mind recently as we made a family decision to train our indoor-only cat Peppermint to be an indoor/outdoor cat. We grew frustrated and disgusted that all attempts to solve his indoor spraying problem ceased to halt his behavior. We followed cat whisperer Jackson Galaxy’s suggestions to put litter boxes where he was spraying, and it worked until it didn’t. Peppermint showed his continued displeasure with us by choosing new locations to pee on, such as my husband’s guitar amp. We knew we needed to do something, but what??

We thought a cat leash and daily outings would make him happy, but all it did was leave him more determined than ever to escape.  And escape he would–if one of us didn’t slam the back door hard enough and the wind caught it, he’d bolt and be gone for days. He didn’t seem to have the usual cat-smarts in marking his territory, so we realized we needed to keep him indoors permanently. Even though eventually he’d return, unharmed and frisky from his adventures, we always wondered where he’d gone and what he’d been up to, feeling so betrayed by him. He’s so loved and spoiled! Why would he want to leave us? These infrequent escapes gave him a taste of the very freedom he craved,  and he continued to punish us by spraying.

So we made a plan, and early this spring, we began to execute it. My husband would let him out for about 15 minutes a day, following close behind like watching a toddler learning to walk. I would do the same, and we’d take turns. We’d open the screen door he so desperately clawed to escape from, and Peppermint surprised us by not bolting out but rather sniffing the corners, rubbing his chin on them (marking his territory) and trepidatiously tiptoeing out into the big outdoors. He would step slowly like the prissy boy he is, unfamiliar with the feeling of cold, wet grass on his paws. Everything was so exciting and new, like a blind man seeing for the first time.

As he became accustomed to his new-found freedom, we’d extend the time he’d get to spend outdoors to a half-hour. Being summer, we’d just porch sit and watch him, giving him more and more space and less hovering every day. But we knew we wanted a GPS tracker “just in case” he disappeared again.

During a trip to Petco, we asked the clerk if they sold some sort of GPS tracker for pets. She explained they didn’t, but there was one called “Tile” that’s supposed to be used for helping you find lost keys and such, but she’d recommended it to many pet owners. We ran and bought it at Best Buy and it works by syncing the little while Tile he wars on his collar to the Tile app on our cell phones.

All four of us in our family are always logged in, so  we are all notified of his location. The map on it shows us where he is if he is within a 200 square-foot radius. Therein lies its limitations, because Peppermint often exceeds the radius and is unlocatable. The app alerts us to his whereabouts if he’s within that radius and you simply click “find” and a chime rings on the tile on his collar, which can be heard once you get close enough to him. So far, he’s content to just lay on the back lawn, watching the birds and the chipmunks, and often naps on the bricks in the shade under a tree.

It’s now the end of August, and the longest Peppermint has been gone has been 10 hours. We now have no choice but to leave the house if we can’t find him, but he’s proven he always comes back. It is miraculous to see him voluntarily walking up our porch and coming into the house; it was always a trick-him-and-grab-him to get him to relinquish his freedom. In fact, yesterday, I knew it was going to rain, and my Tile app let me know he was out of range. I walked the perimeter of our yard calling his name, and sure enough he was playing hide-and-seek with me. I could see him in the bushes. He refused to come to me, so I told him I loved him and “it’s going to rain honey!” and walked away.

Sure enough, ten minutes later, there was a cloudburst and guess who was completely drenched, meowing for his very life, on the other side of the screen door. He knows where home is.

Peppermint is now the most affectionate he’s ever been. He sleeps with us now all night long; he used to sleep alone downstairs in his cat bed. He hasn’t ever responded to his name the way a cat should, but now he does. We all feel he’s so much happier now. He’s indoors when he WANTS to be, not because he’s been imprisioned. When we hold him now, he doesn’t try to get away. He closes his eyes and purrs. And for now at least, the spraying has actually stopped.

I am fully aware that there are coyotes and owls and all sorts of dangers lurking in the shadows just waiting to harm my beloved kitty, but he was miserable, and he let us know it. Likewise, if we keep try to keep away temptations from our significant others by the noose of emotional blackmail, we actually increase the likelihood of them becoming unhappier, not the opposite.

What truly keeps someone coming back is the freedom to choose, every day, that they WANT to come back. The tighter the leash, the more my cat, and our significant others, want to escape. Have the courage and trust to take it off completely, and feel the peace that comes with relinquishing control.

“Your baby needs someone to believe in,

and a whole lot of space to breathe in”

–“Hold on Loosely”, 38 Special

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sex clubs and selfies

 

It doesn’t suprise me at all that yet two more high-profile men got caught with their proverbial pants down around their ankles. What DOES surprise me is that the news anchors play part social psychologist and part “Church Lady” in their telling of these stories.

In the case of Anthony Weiner, the caption on the screen on CNN said, “Weiner Sexting While Son Sleeping Beside Him.” Clearly, the selfie Mr. Weiner took has gotten him in a lot of trouble, but my question is, why is there mention of his three-year-old son is in the picture? Is it merely to reveal “who photo-bombed?’ or to vilify him further? Is it immoral to take selfies in your underwear in front of your sleeping same-sex toddler?

Surprisingly the two female broadcasters never addressed the significance of the byline but rather were discussing what Mr. Weiner should do about his “addiction”, even consulting addiction expert Dr. Drew Pinsky who was advising via telephone off-screen. They were quick to add that Dr. Drew had never treated Mr. Weiner, but it was clear the three of them had diagnosed him as some sort of sex addict that needed help. Isn’t it possible that Mr. Weiner just has terrible judgment and knew right from wrong, BUT CHOSE WRONG ANYWAYS??!! It’s fascinating how these complete strangers make him out to be the Devil’s child yet at the same time help find justifications for his indecent behavior.

Mr. Weiner hasn’t been alone in making the top story of the day as we have headlines announcing, “Swinger Army Major General David Haight Loses Post.” Of course, the word “swinger” caught my attention. Wanting to know more, I Googled “Swinger Gerneral” and found out that Maj. Gen. Haight’s admitted “swinger lifestyle” was one he carried on with his mistress of more than a decade.  NOT with his wife.  My understanding about swinging is it’s a form of consensual non-monogamy. The key word here is “consensual”, and as far as we know, Haight’s wife was unaware of the relationship between her husband and his mistress. I’m sure in a decade they did all sorts of things together but evidently shopping, dining, traveling and well, HAVING A SEXUAL AFFAIR FOR ELEVEN YEARS BEHIND HIS WIFE’S BACK isn’t as captivating as calling out on his perceived sexual depravity.

An “affair’ implies secrecy, and the REAL story is that Haight was canned for breaking the Army’s code of conduct by having had an 11-year (read: “secret”) affair with a woman other than his wife. Isn’t that salacious enough? I guess not, because in our society we’ve come to expect infidelity. It’s frowned on, but being a swinger? GOING TO SEX CLUBS? HAVING YOUR PICTURE ON A SEX WEBSITE?  We don’t “frown” on that type of behavior, no, we scrunch up our noses and cluck our tongues in a collective gasp of disapproval that would make “Beaker” from Sesame Street proud.

He must have an addiction. Wonder when Dr. Drew will be called upon to give his suggestions on how Mr. Haight can get the help we think he needs.

Or maybe Dr. Drew could help the media. First, from perpetuating the ridiculous belief that infidelity is caused by a disease. Infidelity is many things–a lack of coping skills, fear of consequences, impulsivity, lack of boundaries, poor choices, narcissism–but it isn’t an addiction. Second, from promoting yellow journalism. Whatever happened to, “Just the facts Ma’am.”?

People take selfies in less than their underwear all the time, and yes, (GASP!) even visit sex clubs. There’s nothing wrong with those behaviors. So why is this considered newsworthy? Because they were done (apparently) with someone other than their spouses. I’d rather see Dr. Chris Donaghue interviewed on his book, “Sex Outside the Lines.” It’s time we put monogamy into proper perspective and consider alternatives that work.

Or just teach people to stop lying to one another.  Whatever’s easier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get over yourself already!

“I love you.”

Three little words.

Three simple words that many of us long to hear, and yet, many of us that say them are probably unaware of what manipulative creatures we turn into once we’ve uttered them. Suddenly, “I love you” becomes a euphemism for “My Way or the Highway.” Without meaning to, our “love” is laden with unreasonable expectations and conditions that do little to nourish the very person we are proclaiming to love.

Most people would probably say that love brings out the best in us; that giving our love to someone else is the greatest gift we can give them. And it should! But often unconsciously or subconsciously, to most people, it means, “You are now in a prison designed by me, and if you don’t behave according to the rules set and enforced by me, whether explicit or implicit, it means you no longer love me the way you say you do, and this relationship is over.” Sadly when many people say, “I love you”, they have now engaged you in a hostage situation, and it’s mostly unconscious.

We like to think our partner will love us unconditionally, but the truth is, there are many conditions in a romantic relationship. Unconditional love only comes from your pets or  parent-child. Romantic relationships are bound with conditions: they’re called “boundaries” and they’re healthy for maintaining your sanity and well-being and we all (should) have them. For example, I had a boyfriend in college who constantly made me feel guilty for studying too much. He’d lament I wasn’t spending enough time with him. I’d give in, and then get resentful and angry at myself for not honoring my own needs and then do badly on a test or assignment. It was a harsh truth realizing this person who claimed to love me really didn’t want me to do well in college because he himself wasn’t college-educated and was (I believe) unconsciously trying to undermine my success because it made him feel “less-than”. This wasn’t someone who had MY best interests at heart.

We can’t wait to rush to Facebook and change our status to “in a relationship.” Why do we do this? My hope is we are simply just so happy with this person we want to shout it from the rooftops. This may sound snarky but isn’t it also to proclaim ownership of this person? To warn all others,  “He’s mine now.” It’s as much braggadocio as a warning. We happily boast that we now “belong” to someone and how we’ve been “taken off the market.” Suddenly, there are a host of expectations all the way around just by virtue of the defining of there being a “relationship.” Usually this means, no dating others. But again, this is a societal default-setting.

We aren’t usually aware of the unrealistic expectations we place on the object of our love. It’s important to have conversations about how often you should text or call one another as well as how to spend your free time, and, your money.We become insecure and terrified when a text goes unread for longer than 5 minutes and we start playing detective, and God forbid we should see that they’ve posted on their Facebook or Instagram. A friend told me that if her boyfriend doesn’t read or respond for twenty minutes to a text she’s sent, she starts to “freak out” and is convinced he’s cheating on her or at the minimum, losing interest in her.

A husband of a friend of mine assumed she was cheating because she longed for a change and without consulting him, cut off all her hair. Their marriage went downhill shortly after that. He simply had expectations of her that she never agreed to nor even knew about.

Likewise choosing how you spend your free time. If you like your mate’s six-pack abs, well, they weren’t born with them. This means they go to the gym like 5 days a week and probably eat cleanly, so if you’re his girlfriend and start pouting at all the time he spends at the gym instead of with you then you’re not really supporting something that obviously is very important to them.

We ought not feel neglected if our SO makes plans that don’t include us. We ought not feel unloved and insecure if they like things we dislike, wear or say things we disagree with, or question their loyalty if they have the boldness to declare Monday night football a female-free evening. Suddenly, “love” is a question and not a verb or a gift but rather a constraint erected by you.

We get queasy when our SO looks at another hot girl/guy. We worry when suddenly they’re dressing nice. We worry we ourselves are not “hot”enough. We freak out when a post is made on Facebook that excludes us. “Why do you have to call your Mom every Sunday afternoon?” to, “Who are you texting?” We are constantly looking at everything they do through our own lens of insecurity and discomfort. Anything that might rock that boat is seen as a sign of betrayal. We question our SO’s money decisions, food decisions (“Are you kidding me?? You had Mexican at lunch? I TOLD you I was making enchiladas for dinner!!!”) and entertainment and life decisions as threats to our very well-being. How dare they think of themselves?! What about ME??

It feels shameful to admit we get jealous if our loved one enjoys things without us. If we’re not the center of attention, we begin to question how they really feel about us.

In a polyamory, there is word that describes the opposite of jealousy, which is “compersion.” Wikipedia states that it is “an empathetic state of happiness and joy experienced when another individual experiences happiness and joy” but usually used within the context of having emotional and/or sexual relationships outside the primary one. I think this is the epitome of what “I love you” really means. It means, I love you enough to let you feel what you feel, experience what you need and want to experience, and not make ME the focus of that happiness. Most of us can’t even imagine our SO’s enjoying a conversation with any aged-gender of the opposite sex much less having sex with them, but imagine what that must feel like! How freeing that would be!

Compersion, I’m sure, is too extreme an example for many of us to wrap our heads around, but it baffles me that the extreme states of jealousy are not. If I love you, and you love me, then that must mean we are the be-all and end-all to each other’s happiness. Why is it that suddenly, anyone or anything who could make you happy is a threat to our relationship? That could mean a friend, a parent, a co-worker, a sibling, a job, a dream, a desire, ANYTHING.

Wouldn’t it feel AMAZING to be in a relationship with someone who didn’t make you feel defensive all the time? I’m sure most of us don’t even realize we are behaving this way. How would if feel if your SO assumed the best about you ALL THE TIME?? (Until you give them reason to doubt you of course, but that’s a blog post for another day). I implore you to go a whole day without inserting yourself into your SO’s daily activities and instead, be their cheerleader instead of a constant critic. “You want to chop all your hair off? How thrilling! What style were you thinking?” is the loving response, not “WTF you’re crazy. Your hair is beautiful. Why would you want to do that??”  and, “Oh! You already had Mexican food today? Well, I was planning to make enchiladas but I’m happy to make pasta instead.”

Can you feel the difference?

Practice empathic love with everyone. Not just your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse. Try it with your children, your co-workers, your boss, the grumpy store cashier. “She sure was rude. I wonder if she’s going through a hard time right now.”

“I love you” is supposed to be about the other person. Everyone needs friends, family, a purpose filled life, and sometimes, that doesn’t include YOU.

IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT YOU.