I used to feel happiest when traveling. Experiencing new places, new people, my only job to discover and explore. It was a hack to feel present, when in reality my inner life was fixated on the past or worrying about the future. My self-worth was based on what exciting new adventure I was cooking up. The truth is I was running – from responsibility, from commitment, from myself. My constant companions were anxiety, credit card debt, and a bunch of photos of the places I’d been that nothing to anyone but me.
Today, being at home is as fulfilling as being abroad. I especially love my office. It overlooks the yard with the pond and the majestic tree. The light is more buttery and brilliant than anywhere I’ve yet seen. This is where I’ve cooked up Forever Flowers, essays and blog posts. This is where @machetebangbang and I have written Moon Manor, with our dog / cat / chameleon colleagues nearby. My office is on the other side of the bathroom, a weird secret hovel high up with the squirrels and scarabs. My mind feels good here. Passport stamps are cool, but inner peace is the best high of all.
Who knew getting hated on could be so rewarding? To date, the essay I wrote about my Burning Man experience (see above) has been read 50,000 + times. This might be normal for other writers, but since I’m usually locked away in a long form narrative, this shit never happens to me.
I’ve felt elated, proud, shocked, seen, and – hurt. Because there’s also been a lot of backlash. By readers who hate Burning Man in general and thus hate the article (which is such a curiosity, to take the time to read AND comment on an event you’ve never attended but loathe intensely … Burning Man is so charged like that). And by Burners themselves who hate – well, me. Or at least what I wrote, what I represent, “everything that’s going downhill about Burning Man.” To get backlash from the community stings a little. Okay, a lot. I got called a Sparklepony. In Burn culture, this is very, very unflattering.
When I look back at what I wrote, in the midst of unpacking the rental van, hair ratted, bike chafed, picking playa dust out of my eyelashes, mourning the loss of my sleep schedule, hoping we wouldn’t get charged a cleaning fee on the van, getting charged anyway, catching up on bills and checking in with family, yeah I cringe at how obnoxious the article is at times. But in that haze of post peak experience deadline drama, I had no time to self-censor, no time to organize my thoughts beyond a brain dump of what the experience was like inside my neurotic, self-judgmental mind.
I agree with some of the detractors. I wasn’t there for my camp as much as I could’ve been, admitting lugging grey water in apocalyptic heat was the hardest physical labor I’ve ever done was a pretty embarrassing window into my privileged existence. But the comments that piss me off are the ones that refer to me as “just another pretty white girl.” This means my experience isn’t valid? This means I can’t have a point of view?
Would it have made a difference if I’d divulged that I’ve spent the last year as caretaker to my very ill father? That getting to spend a week feeling alive in the desert was the antidote to our endless ER visits. And that before that I was holding space for my boyfriend when he got run over by an SUV, breaking both legs and spending months in a wheelchair. And that he and I got our Burning Man tickets as the goal on the horizon when he would walk again. And that even though we’re not together anymore, my ultimate Burn highlight was when we found each other on the playa under the moon, marveling that he could not only walk but dance and ride a bike, and we held the solar shower for each other as we took little bird baths and discussed our favorite art installations.
If I’d shared all that, would it have made a difference?
Or is that just something a pretty white girl would say?
With that said, now I’ll do the only thing you really can do in life: focus on the light.
In this case: the positive feedback the article has generated. Readers who’ve shared El Guaco-esque experiences of their own, and the owner of El Guaco himself, who found me on Facebook to say El Guaco is his playa contribution because he’s an introvert and this is how he feels comfortable interacting with people.
Some other things I need to say:
–My heart is heavy for the man who ran into the fire, for his family, for those who witnessed it. I didn’t address this in the article because I wanted to gently shine a light on all the other aspects of the experience. I don’t have anything poetic to say about it, just had to acknowledge it.
–I love bike culture at Burning Man. It’s such a return to childhood, riding around with your friends, your bike posse. It’s the perfect example of the duality out there, hedonistic activities happening simultaneously as you get in touch with your inner child.
–Something needs to be said about baby wipes at Burning Man. They are a gift from heaven. That’s all.
–To save face, I know I should write more about my previous Burns, in response to the commenters who wrote that it’s sad I’d been 4 times and was still such a “spectator.” But that’s another article for another time. And I’m pretty ready to be done with Burning Man for the year.
The last thing I want to say is I’ve had haters before. I wrote a sex column for a semester in college that was so divisive I got both applauded by my First Amendment and Society professor, and nearly kicked out of school. Being the center of such turmoil was thrilling, and embarrassing. It was right after my mom’s death and I was in a very “fuck it” place in my life. I’d be lying if I said the backlash didn’t affect me deeply. I wanted to hide for the entire year following. What’s changed in ten years? Then I was writing for shock affect, this time I was authentically expressing myself and my experience. I think I just have a somewhat salacious way of moving through life. I’ve also had ten years of rejection and disappointment to get me primed.
Okay, controversy. Okay, Burning Man. I’ve said all I can say. I’m done. For the year. Or longer. Or not.
Yesterday I received a card in the mail from a girl I met at a party two years ago. Her name is Robin and she has a sweet smile and arresting red hair. The party was called a “speakeasy” and everyone was invited to share some sort of performance. I read a poem I had written, a deeply personal poem about a mistake I had made, the punishment for which was my own broken heart. Robin approached me after I had read and said she appreciated the vulnerability of my words. I gave her the poem, my only draft. Having the poem near me was too painful, too raw a reminder of how much I’d fucked up. It felt strange to give such confessional words to a stranger, yet I knew it was the right thing to do. Robin sent the poem back to me in the card, and holding it in my hands for the first time in two years, I reflected on how much my life has shifted since I poured my sins onto the page.
I don’t think it was a result of just that one major mistake, but rather the accumulation of twenty-eight years of being on this earth, the collective existential drama of being a human being that contributed to the alarming anxiety I’ve been experiencing over the last few years. I didn’t even know to label it “anxiety” until I was in Bali this time last year and stumbled across an old issue of TIME that gave a breakdown of the symptoms, this after a sleepless night wracked with panic, asking over and over again: “How can I have these awful feelings here, in Bali, paradise on earth, and I’m a nervous wreck?!”
It felt like this: heart racing, couldn’t breathe, the cold hands of distress squeezing the air out of my lungs. Fear. Flight, fight, or both. My body tingling, like a thousand bats have been released in my blood. Now that it’s started, it ain’t gonna stop.
At one point I went to a psychiatrist. She prescribed me little white pills. These pills came with pages of warnings and disclaimers, the first being: “WARNING: ANTIDEPRESSANTS MAY INCREASE THE RISK of suicidal thoughts or actions. However, depression and other mental problems may also increase the risk of suicide.” What a joke. I don’t take the pills. They haunt me. I take the pills. I feel better, then worse, because the pills put a band-aid on the symptoms, but they don’t stop the thoughts that caused them in the first place. What’s going on in my mind, in my heart, that I feel anxious ALL THE FUCKING TIME? What have I repressed, ignored, that wants to be released so desperately it puts me in a permanent state of panic?
I cut back on coffee. I do more yoga. I consider the anxiety could be unreleased creative energy, I write/photograph/act/dance more. I didn’t feel this miserable even when my mom died. Is that the problem? Did I grieve incorrectly? Maybe I should have thrown plates at a wall instead of swallowing the sadness, but that was the only way I found to survive going back to college, to a life.
Is the anxiety just money stuff? If I didn’t get in my car without knowing how I’d find the gas money to get back home, maybe I’d be calmer. But then I worry having money will change me, that I’ll become another privileged, out-of-touch American asshole, and now there’s a whole new type of anxiety to indulge in, the “what if” kind.
I go to an eight week anxiety class. I get anxious about completing the coursework. I research native plant medicine, I want something so powerful my consciousness will rip open and I can peer into my own psyche, look this nervous wreck in the face and say “Get out of here, I’m busy shining.” I snuggle Chairman Meow, I look at nature, the two palm trees that guard my front yard, my silent sentries. I watch movies. Nothing helps, nothing helps. I realize the anxiety is usually triggered by having to make a decision, which means a trip to the grocery store can cause a full-fledged panic attack.
I dig deeper. Getting overwhelmed at making decisions means I don’t trust myself to make the right decision. Deeper still: I have no faith in myself. Maybe because of that monumental mistake I made two years ago, maybe because trying to be a writer in Los Angeles is in it’s essence a daily assault on your self-esteem.
Maybe it’s the weather changing, maybe it’s because I’m trying very hard to focus on one thing at a time, but in the last few weeks, the cloud has been lifting. I wish I could share what “fixed” me, but it feels too new, too precious, to the point that I hesitated even writing this blog post. But I’m telling you about my struggle with anxiety because I realize accepting and sharing who I am, as I am RIGHT NOW, not who I want to be SOMEDAY, is a first step toward having faith in myself. If I can be okay with who I am TODAY, the overthinking, oversleeping, overeating, behind-on-all-her-bills, beautiful mess that I am, then maybe I can build a solid enough foundation to work toward the me I want to be: a girl who’s as gentle with herself as she is toward friends, who writes because it brings her joy and serenity, who’s spends as much time pursuing self-mastery as she does boozing and joint smoking. And I want to write blog posts more often. Baby steps, baby steps.
In the card, Robin included this serendipitously relevant bit of wisdom from Emily Dickinson:
“We never know how high we are til we are called to rise–and if our lives are true to plan our statures touch the skies. The heroism we recite would be a daily thing, did not ourselves the cubit’s warp for fear to be a king.”
She also included a smaller card, which reads simply: You are pure sunshine.
Breathe in. Breathe out.