Burning Man: Metamorphosis

Last week I returned from my fifth Burning Man. It was an incredible experience, my favorite year yet, and I am still processing and decompressing from that wonderful week in the Nevada desert. Anyone who spends much time with me knows that I go to Burning Man, given how it changed my life so radically it is hard not to bring it up. What many people don’t understand is what Burning Man actually is… unfortunately, I have a hard time explaining it myself.

I think that asking the question “What is Burning Man?” is actually one that can’t be truly answered. It would be like asking “What is Pittsburgh?” or “What is England?”. That phrasing might work on Jeopardy but it doesn’t really work in real conversation. The problem is that Burning Man isn’t really an event, it is more of a community and a place. Sure, it is scheduled at a time and place for a limited time like a festival but it isn’t a festival. There are events that happen at Burning Man, but Burning Man itself is not really an event.

At the end of every summer ~70,000 gather together in the harsh Black Rock desert in Northern Nevada and build a community based on 10 principles. These principles guide the behavior of each member of the community. Now, nobody is perfectly following the principles. In fact, there are times when the principles are in conflict with each other. There are no community supported laws, bureaucrats, red-tape or elected officials (though various government agencies are present). The only infrastructure in place when burners arrive are the streets marked off and porta-potties. Every other structure and resource is brought in by the attendees and built by the attendees… and oh man, they can build wonderful things in such a short time.

Even without the threat of violence from men with badges the community is incredibly well-behaved. Women can bike around at night naked and not get harassed or assaulted, people use all kinds of chemicals that aren’t authorized, and people pick up garbage (or “Matter Out Of Place” – MOOP) as they travel. It is far from perfect and there are assholes but I would prefer to be around that intentional community than a random selection of 70,000 outside of Burning Man.

There are other questions, like “what do you do at Burning Man?” and “Why do you like going to Burning Man?” that are a little easier to handle. The former question depends a lot on the person. There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of events that happen during the week and what I do will vary significantly from what others do.

For example, on Tuesday we set off on our bikes without much of a goal. As we rode around the streets we passed camps that people set up to provide gifts to other members of the community. We found ourselves at a camp giving away grilled cheese, another one with iced coffee, and a third with margaritas. At the margarita place we ran into an old friend and chatted for an hour, then there was a camel-toe and moose-knuckle competition. We also stumbled upon a camp that was doing circus acts that served Pho (including vegan!) and we learned  that they were having a pole dancing performance on Friday so we tentatively decided to attend that.

In total, we biked around and found dozens of camps spontaneously with drinks and food and music… all gifts from other burners. Eventually, the sun got to us so we took a nap. After our nap we went out to look at art and listen to more music, again we had no real goal other than live in the moment. If you google “Burning Man Art 2019” you will see some of the amazing things that artists created as gifts for everyone. We were able to climb up into many of them and play.

This continued for seven days. There were sunrise yoga sets and classes about how to tie someone up in BDSM. Some professors were there to teach about the geology of the Black Rock Desert and fire dancers performed in the streets. We even went to a class called “Discussing Sexual Desires for Introverts”. There was a “hug deli” where you go up and order what type of hug you would like and everyone around gives you that hug. Each day has thousands of events scheduled and infinite unscheduled random encounters where you can meet new people, laugh, and love. Remember, it is a city where gifting is part of the culture so everyone tries to provide something for others.

Whether you wanted to meditate and honor your spirituality or get into a carnal sexual dance, there is a community for you. It really is about getting out of the “default world” and working towards being true to yourself. It is the most beautiful of experiences and it is my Home. It is tough though, the environment is rough, and there are many moments of discomfort and sadness and emotional overloads, but those “negatives” actually make it even more important to me. The people who rent RVs and hide from the heat or shower daily or stick to the places of comfort have different priorities and experiences than I do. I like to sweat and connect and get dirty and deal with the porta-potties to truly begin to see a glimpse of what it has to offer.

Each year is a new lesson and new experience, and this year was no different. Some lessons that hit home this year include:

  1. I have a lot of internalized shame and a feeling that I’m not worthy of happiness or health. A lot of my internal negative dialogue and self-sabotage comes back to this. But I AM worthy of love and happiness and success and health, even if it doesn’t feel that way.
  2. I definitely have a group sex kink. It isn’t necessarily a desire to have sex with other partners, it is more of extreme enjoyment from being in a room with others having sex. Kind of a voyeurism, exhibitionism, live porn kink.
  3. I’m a pretty good looking guy and my self-image is pretty tainted. I wouldn’t say it is full-blown body dysmorphia but I have a distorted view of my own appearance.
  4. I really like being naked. Not only in sexual situations or whatever, I just like not having clothes on and I like being around other people who don’t have clothes on.
  5. I should be a better advocate for myself. It is okay for me to speak up for what I want and say no to people or experiences that I don’t want.
  6. I am not at fault for the trauma I experienced during war. It is good that I survived. I have deep wounds to work on but I am not the same person I was back then (I was basically a kid) and I am not the same person as the guys I served with. The week before Burning Man I had a really bad PTSD anxiety attack, I was convinced that I would inevitably “snap” and kill those I loved. I felt leaving their life was the only way to protect them and nobody would truly love me if they knew my heart. I was in a bad place. Luckily, I have a kick-ass partner and she knows intuitively how to help me. The Burn really brought some of these issues into clearer focus and helped me realize that I am not my trauma and nothing is “inevitable”.

Those are some of the takeaways on my mind right now. I’m trying to process and decompress and plan out how to take this time of clarity to move forward. I know this momentum won’t last forever but things feel really good right now and some ideas include volunteering in the community more, writing and publishing erotica, start fire dancing again, join local clubs (swinger, nudist, environmentalists, activism), take art lessons (dancing, singing or instrument), get outdoors more, develop my spiritual practice, and take my physical health more seriously through an exercise routine and better eating. I also want to start doing more events and travelling alone, including an extended meditation retreat.

The them for this year (Metamorphosis) was really applicable to my experience. I, like everyone else, is a constant state of change. I’m learning and striving and stumbling daily, and Burning Man helps with all of that. It is a place where I gain insight into myself and am encouraged to take chances and make decisions that are true to myself. It is my Mecca, my pilgrimage, my rebirth, my new year, my rite of passage, my spiritual home. It is holier to me than Christmas is to Christians and more worthy of celebration than any birthday.

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Childhood “Wounds”

On the advice of my therapist I am currently reading “Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples” by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt. She didn’t recommend this book because my relationship with my partner is bad or anything like that. Actually, I think we have a really good relationship. We rarely have conflict and when we do we communicate well. Over time, we have gotten better and better at this. This book was recommended because my therapist and I are diving into some of my childhood wounds, which the authors base their theories around.

I do want to preface this post with something, though. I love my parents and siblings and I had a childhood filled with love and care. I believe my parents did their absolute best and I never felt unloved or insecure. However, we ALL have wounds from our childhood that operate at the subconscious and near-conscious level. There is no such thing as a perfect way to raise a child. Realizing this and working to consciously identify childhood wounds is first step towards healing, which brings about better communication and relationships.

At this point, I’ve identified a few “wounds” and how I think they manifest themselves in my life. I’m sure I am off about some of them but I think I’m heading in the right direction.

New Brother: My parents had a second child 16 months after I was born, which means my parents love, time and affection was split between two of us early in my life. And, as it should be, my younger brother got more of that care because he was a newborn and more dependent on my parents for survival. I think this has impacted a number of areas of life, including a longing for physical intimacy and the wall that seems to prevent me from feeling passionate about anything. I think this is why MDMA is my favorite drug, it breaks down that wall and encourages people to share physical intimacy. This is basically one of the two fears that are the foundation of negative emotions: fear of not being good enough.

Lack of Control: I come from a fairly large family by today’s standards (six kids). As can be expected, there was a fair amount of chaos around the house. Both my parents worked (sometimes multiple jobs) and we were all sort of left to fend for ourselves. We used to joke that dinner was sometimes a stack of pizzas dropped on the table and a free-for-all to get food. As a result, I tend to make very quick decisions (sometimes not rationally), turn to food for comfort (which I scarf down), and I overly structure my life and day with schedules and to-do lists. This is the other of the two fears: fear of not being in control.

Tardiness: I absolutely HATE being late for something, particularly when I am late because of something outside my control. It literally triggers my anxiety and I enter fight-or-flight mode when I just think I might be late to something. I think this comes from the fact that my parents were very busy and often I would end up late to school or some appointment or they would be late to pick me up from something. This made me feel unimportant and I started equating worth with dependability.

I am sure as my therapist and I dive into my past even more I will discover other “wounds”, and that’s okay. Pretending that I had a perfect childhood or that my childhood was “good enough” and I shouldn’t complain will never make me a better partner, friend, brother, or son. I need to acknowledge these wounds, share them with my partner so that she can understand why I react certain ways, and work to build new neuro-pathways that are less impulsive and destructive. Knowing yourself is necessary to become your best self.

Striking Vipers

Hey everyone! After a pretty significant hiatus I’ve decided to start blogging and writing again. Thank you to those people who encouraged me and prompted me to get back into this. I’ve missed writing and am looking forward to rambling on and getting some psychological release.


Well, first things first. This blog post is about the Black Mirror episode “Striking Vipers”. There will be spoilers so if you haven’t seen it and spoilers bother you then you should probably go watch it first. I mean, honestly, the episode is great so you should watch it right now whether you’ve seen it or not. Alright, on with the show…

 

I absolutely fucking loved this episode. If you know me that probably doesn’t surprise you. I still don’t have a solid handle on my thoughts but I’m going to just kind of spew out on to the screen and see what materializes.

In general, men aren’t allowed much intimacy with each other. You can have a best friend that you’ve known for decades but to exhibit any affection beyond maybe a hug or an occasional “love you bro” is frowned upon… suppressed… punished. And it is that suppression that boils up inside of us and can contribute to violence, mental and physical health problems, and destroyed relationships.

In “Striking Vipers” the two protagonists have a pretty standard guy friendship that fades away as one gets married and has kids. It is pretty damn tough to maintain any type of friendship when lifestyles start to drift in different direction, at least that has been my experience as a 37-year old, intentionally childless guy.

Anyway, their friendship reunites due to a super futuristic video game where you can basically do whatever you want. It is a fighting game but these two guys end up fucking instead. When they entered a fantasy world and were able to be inside different bodies, their affection and love and lust (maybe) for each other came out. They wanted to bang each other. They wanted to display affection. They wanted a new level of intimacy with each other. But they felt they couldn’t in “the real world”.

So, does this mean they are gay?

Nah… they both seem to thoroughly enjoy sexual and emotional relationships with women.

Well, maybe they are bi?

tumblr_ph6rq7Im9i1qb77hzo4_250.gif

Maybe… but I actually think putting a label like that on it is both overly simplistic and unnecessarily complicated. Attraction is more complicated than “Man = No” “Woman = Yes”. I truly think that absent all this shitty social conditioning we’d all by pansexual, because at the end of the day attraction is about the mind, the person as a whole, more than it is the body.

Of course, when the characters in the show realize that they have an intimacy and attraction with each other it causes all sorts of drama (which is to be expected in a show). They don’t have a healthy way to handle it, there is no framework for them to work within.

What do you do when you fuck your best friend in a video game? Logically you can, and should, talk to all relevant parties to discuss things.

Is that cheating? It depends on the relationship… Not in my relationship but we should all probably have these conversations with our partner(s) before they become issues.

Do you tell your partner? Do you discuss it outside of the game? Was it a one time thing?

All this requires talking but that is another thing that guys suck ass at doing. So instead, the characters hide it from their partners, bottle up their feelings, and end up fighting in a parking lot. Because when a guy’s masculinity is challenged we usually fall back on the one emotion that we are allowed to feel: anger.

As if some how giving pleasure to someone you love makes you less masculine. This shitty toxic masculinity is both a symptom and the cause of so many problems in our society.

In the end, this episode is one of the few that ends with a happy ending. The characters end up discussing it with the necessary parties and develop a non-monogamous relationship that fits all their needs. And you know I LOVE seeing non-monogamous relationships normalized. There is nothing morally wrong with having sex, flirting, being attracted to, or even falling in love with people who are not the person that you agreed to spend your life with, as long as everyone involved consents.

So, in the end when the married couple set aside one day where he can bang his best friend on a video game and she can go out to the bars and get some strange I see that as a wonderful thing. That is a healthy relationship. That is one in which the participants recognize that we all change, we all have feelings, and that we are all capable of vast amounts of love and affection. And a relationship is pretty shitty if it requires you to prevent your partner from feeling joy and pleasure and love and free expression.

As usual, Black Mirror shows us something that we all may need to deal with sooner rather than later. This video game technology won’t be here any time soon, but more and more people are opening up relationships and recognizing that a lifetime together doesn’t need to mean monogamy. Whether it is swinger’s clubs, Burning Man, or chat rooms, there are more and more opportunities to escape to a place where we can be our true selves through anonymity… and there are more places where our partner’s can do the same. And we should encourage them to do that.

Data Visualization: Marijuana in Maine

I’m taking some Coursera courses on Data Visualization using Tableau and decided I need to practice. So I made some things, I’ll probably try to do one project or so per week. I’m sure someone else has made something similar to what I have but it was fun to track down the date and create it myself.

The following map displays how different counties voted on Question 1 to legalize recreational marijuana. Green counties had over 50% support and red counties had less than 50% support. I couldn’t figure out how to get Tableau to display the numbers as a percentage instead of a decimal (it keeps converting percentage to text… whatever, I’ll figure it out).

maine-map

The following graph looks at Median Household Income, Support for Marijuana Legalization, and color codes each county by which Presidential candidate won the majority in that county. As you can see, there seems to be a correlation between a high median household income, increased support for marijuana legalization, and voting for Clinton. I also compared median age, percent of the population over 60, and how white the county was (Maine is SUPER white… like, unbelievably so), but none of those data points seemed to correlate.

issue-1-vs-median-household-income

So, curious about some data that you’d like to see visualized? Shoot me a message, I’m always looking for new projects. Until then, I’m going to keep tweaking this to make it more aesthetic and play with other data.

November Update

Hi, everyone!

I know I’ve been basically MIA for the last month, but I have not been idle. I started re-reading “4-Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss and started to take the lessons to heart. Instead of just reading the book I started taking the proactive steps that he recommends to accomplish my long-term goals.

There was one question asked in the book that really struck home and pulled me away from blogging for a while.  “Are you inventing things to do to avoid the important?”. Sadly, I was doing that, a lot. This blog was one of the things that I would use as an excuse for why I wasn’t writing my book. I justified ignoring my book on the grounds that I wrote for my blog, but the result was zero pages of book and dozens of blog posts of varied quality. I was using my creative energy towards something that wasn’t in line with my long term goals.So, I wrote that question on a post-it, stuck it to my monitor, and got to work.

Another concept in the book that altered how I work throughout the day was going on a “low-information diet”. I realized that I spent hours on sites like Facebook each day and it really didn’t benefit me. What did I gain through hours of scrolling and reading articles? Sure, I was “informed”, but how did that help my life? The information I read online would anger me or tempt me into debating someone online for no reason, but that create anything. It didn’t help me with my book, it didn’t earn me more money, it didn’t increase the quality time I had with my partner or friends. All it did was take up my time and drain my  mental energy.

Now, I have a Chrome app that only allows me to go on Facebook for 10 minutes per day. The result? I still get the information I need to be “informed” and if I need to get in touch with someone or ask for help on Facebook then 10 minutes is plenty of time to do it. I got hours of my life back each day and I have been redirecting that energy towards improving my daily life and working on my long term creations.

The most important accomplishment in the last month was my writing. I finished the first draft of my book. I went from a blank page to about 40,000 words in 25 days. I would trade over a year of Facebook time for a completed first draft, a month was a very small price. My second accomplishment is my meditation practice, it is still incredibly difficult but I meditated 28 days out of November and I’m up to 20-minutes a day. I have also started training myself to dance with poi, which at this point has done little more than make me realize how uncoordinated I am with my left hand, but I’m enjoying it.

There were other accomplishments as well… cooking new meals weekly, running or biking almost every day (including a 10-mile run), relearned Trigonometry and pre-Calculus on Khan Academy, started a daily Stoic reflection, and teaching myself GIS and data visualization on Coursera. By re-evaluating what I spend my time on and discarding the things that weren’t in line with my goals I ended up with plenty of time in the day. Instead of scrolling Facebook, doing dishes three times a day, or checking emails, I’m working on things that will help me move forward in life. I still clean and check emails, I just don’t do them as a way to put off the difficult work I should be doing. I had to ask myself, instead of spending 15-hours per week (or more) surfing Facebook, what else could I do with my time? How would my fitness level improve if 1/3 of that time went to exercise? Could I become fluent in a foreign language, subject matter, or musical instrument if I spent an hour a day focusing on those instead of reading political blogs? Am I using my time in a way that is going to help me experience the things that I want to experience?

So, now that I have my time somewhat under control, what are the other pain points in my life? What behaviors do I have that are not taking me to my goals? The first one that stands out is alcohol consumption. In November I consumed 52 alcoholic drinks (and I’ll probably drink a couple tonight at Naughty Bingo). I am not saying I should abstain, alcohol consumption can be justified as both a goal of life (it brings pleasure) and as a tool for long-term happiness (helps make friends), but it is clear that isn’t the case for ALL my drinking. Those 52 drinks last month equal about 2.5 lbs of fat from calories (roughly), and it also cost me around $200. Not only that, if I drank more than 3 drinks in a night my average time running the next day was 9 minutes, if I drank less than three drinks my average running time the next day was 25 minutes. Drinking clearly comes with some direct and indirect costs. My plan for December is to cut alcohol consumption in half, so only 26 drinks during the month and only one night with over 3 drinks.

How I spend my money is another place that could be improved, particularly when it comes to books. Right now my bookshelf has 44 unread books, 3 books I’m currently reading, and 16 completed books. All of these books were purchased in the last two months. I need to re-evaluate how I decide to purchase books. So, I’m taking all my credit card information off of Amazon. If I want to purchase a book I need to enter in the card information by hand each time. I’m also going to try and put a 48-hour waiting period on all purchases (is there an app for that?). I can’t think of a single scenario where I need a book in a tight time frame. Also, no new book purchases until my “unread” shelf is down to ten books, which means I either read 34 books or I realize that I will never read them and I donate them to the used bookstore down the street.

I also need to figure out how to make friends, as lame as that sounds. It is tough as an adult in a new city to meet people, particularly when I work from home. I’ve started working through Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and it has some great tips that I’m going to proactively use, but I’m such an introvert and homebody that it is hard to force myself out of my shell. Luckily, Wilmington has a ton of opportunities for me to do social things around my interests (Dungeons and Dragons, board games, yoga, fitness, rock climbing, vegan, spirituality, etc). This isn’t really an area that I’m wasting time or energy, it is an area that I haven’t dedicated resources to like I should. Instead, I have gotten in the habit of focusing all my friend energy into Facebook (don’t get me wrong, I love my connections on there, but I need something more physical in my life).

So, that is how my November went. I didn’t announce a lot of this stuff ahead of time because I’ve found that announcing something actually discourages me from accomplishing it. Saying “I’m writing a book!” feels like it is productive when it really isn’t. It is better for me to write a book and say “I wrote a book!”. Looking forward to making that announcement is an incentive for me.

I’m looking forward to December and to seeing how my new goals and projects work out. I may try to blog a little bit, but only if I feel a real drive to do it. It can be stressful sometimes, but I try and remember to not take any of it too seriously. The point of life is to have fun, not to be 100% productive. If I have a few days (or more) where I accomplish nothing, that’s cool. Sometimes you need to lounge in front of Netflix with pizza and Oreos instead of going to the gym. Immediate pleasure is sometimes reason enough to do something.

Infection

Creation is a disease. It is a virus. Once it infects a person it slowly, but surely takes over your entire being.

It is a small, invisible lifeform that moves from cell to cell in your body and takes control. It intoxicates to host and turns all energy towards the act of creating.

Once it takes hold, it is nearly impossible to destroy. Your only hope is to stop it early on. A blog is easy to stop when you’ve only posted a few things. A chapter or two of your novel can be tossed into an unmarked folder on your desktop. The paint and paintbrushes you ordered off of Amazon can sit in the corner “until tomorrow”. The guitar you borrowed from your father can gather dust in the closet after only a night or two of picking. The running shoes that cost $85 can sit by the door every morning if you’ve only run a few miles and you’re “too sore”, “running late”, or it is “too cold”.

But once creation starts to reproduce and get results, there is no stopping it. When you get the habit of writing every day and finish your book, you soon want to start a podcast. When you run daily and realize the rhythm of your feet matches the beat from a song, you want to start playing a musical instrument. When you recognize the patterns in the paintings around the room as mathematical principles you want to write a book about Leonardo DiVinci. Using your mind to make something new makes you wonder what your body is capable of, and vice versa. Creation infects every fiber of your mind, body, and soul and makes you wonder “what if?”. How strong could I be? What can I create with paint or chalk or music or poetry? Exploration of your own potential unlocks creativity that nobody can contain, and success isn’t about outside recognition but the completion of a task, and that motivates you on to the next thing you are curious about.

Creation creates creation.

You better stop now, or else there will be no stopping you.