Leg 8: The Scenic Route from “The Big Easy” to “Keep Austin Weird”

After we barely survive the streets of New Orleans we are going to hit the trail again headed north towards Missouri (the bastard child of the Midwest) and drift our way into the plains and down into Texas. This 47 mile trek should be around 2300 miles taking us through a variety of environments as we leave the wetlands of the Mississippi and eventually get to the hot Texas wilderness. It looks like this will be March-April 2015 so hopefully the temperature won’t be too high or we may end up adjusting our travel hours to stay out of the midday sun. Some highlights include…

  • Leg 8Three major Texas cities
  • Little Rock
  • Oma and the rest of Anna’s family
  • The Katy Trail
  • Six Flags over Texas
  • Wineries and Breweries

Students For Sensible Drug Policy

Well, by time this post I will be well on my way to the Playa dust of Burning Man and letting my freak flag fly. While I won’t be able to do my regular ridiculous Facebook posts about drug policy, libertarianism, love, science, and all things Awesome, I hope that if you enjoy what I share you will take a moment and consider donating what you can to Students For Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP).

SSDP is the premier organization pushing for a sensible approach to prohibition. By focusing on students they help mobilize the next generation of leaders, encourage the adaptation of policies that actually save lives, and educate a wide range of citizens on the harm produced by such a tyrannical approach to narcotics. They have personally impacted my life in a huge way and I have agreed to match every dollar that is raised between now and the end of Burning Man up to $1000. I wish I could give more but that is what I have right now, I hope you will consider giving a few dollars as well.

I am not a staff member, board member, or anything like that. I am simply an individual who believes in their mission and hopes to see change in my lifetime. We live in a time where medicine is unavailable to veterans suffering from PTSD, cancer patients, and lives are being ruined when students make one-time mistakes. It is time for things to change, it is time for policies to reflect science, and it is time to give students the opportunity to grow and prosper. Every dollar helps.

 

Going Home…

When this work day ends I will be packing up and heading Home again. Burning Man goes by many things to us Burners… The Playa, Black Rock City, the dust… but for me the most appropriate term is “Home”. It is a place of love, tolerance, support, and happiness. It is difficult to explain Burning Man to people who have never been. You can show people the art, talk about the personal experiences, show videos and pictures, but you don’t even begin to capture the spirit and culture that thrives in that community. It is something I believe everyone should experience once, it is a place that no words, pictures, or videos can do justice.

I didn’t understand what Burning Man really was when I first went, and I still don’t understand it completely, I don’t think anyone does (or can). It is a living organism that evolves each year. The 10 Principles get things started but as a near anarchist community it is up to the individuals to build, create, and participate. It is a beautiful and mind-blowing experience to see the city grow throughout the week from a relatively few people to 65,000ish burners loving, living, and experiencing the moment. It isn’t really “about” anything more than just being human, and with that humanity comes art, beauty, sex, drugs, laughter, tears, mind, body, and spirit. It is a place to heal and to grow all parts of who you are and who you want to be.

My physical home for one week, my mental home year round

My physical home for one week, my mental home year round

I’ve been asked before what my favorite part of Burning Man is, and I have a relatively simple answer. My favorite part is when you end up in a warm embrace with a “stranger” and as you hold that person tight you say “I love you” and they say it back, and they mean it. For a moment your spirits mix together and stretch into eternity together. You no longer notice the dust as their skin presses against you and both of you hold each other as the limitations of the body disappear and two people become one. That is why you will often find me in a cuddle puddle, spooning with strangers and loved ones, and hugging all those I meet. It is the love that draws me to the Playa, the uninhibited and unashamed passion and intimacy for other people. It is love for another, love for an unknown, love united by the simple fact you exist at the same moment together. It is love that we all strive for and desire but in the “default world” we cover it up, it is a love that roams free on the Playa.

This year I have the incredible pleasure of taking a “virgin” with me. My partner, Anna, is coming to Burning Man for the first time. To be honest, I’m nervous.. but I need to stop planning and allow the playa magic to do it’s thing. I know her, I love her, and I know she will have a fantastic time. There will be hardships, there will be rough days and nights (there always are when you are doing something of value), but in the end I know it will make her stronger, me stronger, and us stronger. Burning Man is always what you allow it to be, once you put your walls down it will be exactly what you need.

I don’t really take pictures while out on the Playa. In a lot of ways it is intentionally temporary. It springs from dust for a moment and returns to dust in the end, leaving only an imprint on my mind. There will probably be a photo or two of me, but I prefer to stay out from behind the lens. But, for those interested, below are some of my favorite videos and pictures:
My Playa Adventure 2010 Part 1
My Playa Adventure 2010 Part 2
Oh The Places You’ll Go
Wallaby Way Burning Man 2012
Stuck In Customs Photo Album

Leg 7: Southern Hospitality

After finishing up Leg 6 in southern Florida we are going to loop back up and see some of the non-coastal south. There are lots of cool cities on the list and beautiful (and humid) environments to explore. I know basically nothing about this 2000ish mile stretch but it looks like this month and half is going to be beautiful. Of course, ending in New Orleans will be an amazing experience that I probably won’t be able to remember. Some highlights for me include:

  • Shark Valley Loop Road (I don’t know what this is but it sounds awesome)
  • Tampa, FL
  • Mises Institute in Auburn, AL
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Knoxville and Nashville, TN
  • Unclaimed Baggage Center
  • Six Flags Over Georgia
  • Parthenon Replica
  • Accents

Leg 7

On The Spirit

Dealings of spirituality and religion are a bit difficult to me. I grew up in a Christian home but at some point along the way found it lacking. It isn’t necessarily the teachings of Christ that I found disagreeable, it is more the Church did not reflect what I saw in Christ. In addition, my upbringing denied scientific theories like evolution but did not provide any real counter-theory. I was told to just have faith, I was told “God works in mysterious ways”, I was told that evolution was “just a theory”… things that both insult the human capacity for logic and shows a complete ignorance to what a scientific theory is. They were straw men and when I was presented with evidence, logic, and the scientific method the straw men burnt easily, but the words of Galileo rang true “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

I certainly consider myself a skeptic, and by that I mean I place greater weight in objectivity and science than subjective experiences and faith. But science at this time cannot explain everything and the places where measuring objectivity is not possible (yet?) we must compile subjective experiences, look for patterns, and attempt to formulate measurable hypothesis. Still, we humans lack the ability to objectively measure spiritual experiences, and it may be that we can never measure them. No matter how much we can look into the mind it is difficult, or maybe impossible, to determine the source of spiritual experiences. They may be created and executed completely in the brain or the brain may act as a conduit for experiences coming from another dimension.

I use the term dimension in a semi-scientific way. I admit my knowledge of physics is pretty laymen but it seems it is possible that a dimension may exist in a way that it can interact with ours under certain circumstances. Meditation, psychedelic drugs, near-death, spiritual revelations, and maybe even dreams may act as gateways to another dimension. I don’t know this for a fact, but that is the point. We lack the scientific knowledge to measure and compare subjective spiritual experiences. It is possible our brains are like a water cooler where all the mechanics of dispensing water are controlled in one body, or our brains may be like a water faucet where the mechanics move outside our homes into an area that we don’t currently have access to (at least not without professional help).

The truth is, I don’t know what the spirit is or what spiritual experiences are. I think there is some truth in the spiritual practices that have woven itself within humankind. I feel (admittedly a subjective response) the spirit exists and that we can access enlightening experiences through various means. In some ways whether spiritual experiences truly exist or are simply misfiring neurons in our brain seems of little relevance if they help us live a more fulfilling and happier life. I think the mind, body, and spirit is a triad that encompasses the human experience, and each section must be exercised for complete health. I may be wrong, but in the end it really doesn’t matter to me, this balance of belief and evidence about reality helps me live a life of peace, love, and personal growth, and if there is a meaning to life that seems like a good one to me.

Pulling the Trigger

I really enjoy autobiographies. I find them incredibly inspiring and often use the lives of others to inspire me to act. Whether it is Karl Hess, Ke$ha, or CG Jung I have noticed certain patterns in the lives of influential people. These patterns may exist in “normal” lives but they get lost in the commonality of the actions.

I don’t particularly want to be known or famous, but I do want to live my life for all it is worth… And that means taking action. I don’t really live vicariously through others, I’m just not built that way. I am a tactile person, I need to feel the breeze, the rush of adrenaline, see the sites, and feel the terror. My imagination just isn’t strong enough, even with photos and videos, to even remotely replace the experience.

Luckily I seem to have a trait that other adventurers do, once my mind is set I act with a ridiculous focus and my mind sets very quickly. When I decided to ride my bicycle across the country the decision was made quickly and I just did it. I’ve applied this to big things like trips and tattoos, and small things like meals (much to the annoyance of my partner, at any restaurant I’ll pick my meal in 60 seconds and she mentally tastes each option over time… in the end I think she has a better dining experience).

Something incredibly striking to me about the people in autobiographies is that they aren’t that special. They are normal people who made decisions to take chances and risk disrupting what is “known”. They wrote their ideas down, they cut loose bad baggage, and they made a personal commitment to do what they think is right, all things that we are all capable of if we try. As Chris Kucher says in the below video “everything around us that we call life, was made up of people no smarter than you.”

Opening Pandora’s Box

Originally posted over at Sex And The State… because Cathy likes to give us amateurs an opportunity once in a while. If you haven’t checked her blog out you probably should, it is fucking awesome. 

When I first heard about Daniel Bergner’s book “What Do Women Want?” I wasn’t really impressed. I knew the premise from hearing an interview between Bergner and Dan Savage, and to be honest it sounded like several books I’ve read about the changing view of sexuality, love, and romantic relationships. While I was skeptical in the beginning that I would encounter anything new I am really glad I read it. In fact, I highly recommend it to everyone interested in the subject of a woman’s sexuality, particularly if they are unsatisfied with the Victorian-era narrative that women are made for monogamy and must act as gate-keepers to keep men’s uncontrollable lust in check.

Bergner (a journalist by profession) skillfully weaves the most cutting edge scientific research with personal tales of love, lust, and loss. Each chapter introduces new information and characters to convince the reader that the modern view that a women’s sexuality has evolved to be the more monogamous sex is little more than a societal enforced fairy tale. Women, in fact, may have evolved to actually crave more variety and more sex than men and it is centuries worth of social control by churches and governments (which historically have been male-dominated) that have created a puritanical ideal. An ideal that pressures women to fear, hate, and neglect their own passions and feel shame when they desire pleasure.

The research Bergner showcases in his book takes several approaches to remove nature and nurture, at to find out what women really want. Experiment’s include everything from Meredith Chivers’ measuring women’s arousal while watching a sexual and non-sexual movies (and comparing it to the women’s subjective rating of their arousal) to studies of the sexual practices of other animals like rats and rhesus monkeys.

The scientists Bergner interviews sees evidence for women’s sexual drives in biology. Multiple orgasms, quicker orgasms for men, and sexual arousal from observing many situations point to a drive for many sexual partners. Add that to the common decrease in arousal for their partner after a few years and the standard narrative for female sexuality starts to crumble. For generations we have been told that real love means a lifelong sexual attraction to your partner and if that attraction stops there is something wrong that needs to be fixed, usually through a psychologist or medication. To treat lifelong lust and sexual monogamy as the norm is to invite disappointment, causing harm to individuals and relationships.

With scientific research confronting (and often defeating) established social norms we all become more free. Increased knowledge allows for more opportunities, greater happiness, and more healthy relationships than in the past. What we do with this information is a choice each individual must make, but at least it is a more educated choice. As a person who is primarily attracted to  women I hope this information will help me be an understanding, supportive, and responsible partner when the woman I love eventually feels more lust for another. I hope women will read this and realize desire and fantasies are natural and they should not feel shame. These sexual desires and fantasies should not be translated as lacking love. Love and sex have become unnecessarily intertwined in modern cultures, and many of the interviews highlight how much the women love their partners even if they do not lust for them anymore.

Bergner has helped open a door for people to gain knowledge about their bodies and minds. This can revolutionize society. To free women from socially (and often politically) enforced mythological views of sexuality is to encourage self-actualization that is inevitably unique to each individual, and we all benefit when individuals are free to pursue their passions, desires, and dreams. Science is helping us approach a new revolution of individuality but it is all still in it’s infancy, as Bergner states in his closing chapter:

The science and thinking I have brought together in this book are a beginning, only that. None of the researchers I have learned from… would claim to have definitive, fully formed answers about female desire… Eros lies at the heart of who we are as human beings, yet we shun the study of our essential core, shun it perhaps most of all where it is least understood, in women.

Damn Dirty Hippies

Labels are fascinating (though often annoying) things. I am a libertarian. But my path has been a strange one and I now identify as a hippie also. I was a veteran in Iraq and Afghanistan, I earned a degree in Economics from The College of Charleston, and I worked in the suit-and-tie non-profit world of Washington DC… but none of that felt 100% right to me, the fight against government was not all I wanted. In my experience hippies tend to be associated with “the left” (whatever the fuck that even means anymore) while libertarians have a history of aligning with “the right” (again… WTF does that mean), particularly over economic issues. The focus on economic freedom and aligning with the right has in many ways tainted the word “libertarian” in many people’s minds. Some of the tainting is justified, while some of it reflects a lack of understanding of what it means to be a libertarian.

As a libertarian I believe in the freedom to do what I wish with my body, my mind, and my labor, as long as I am not harming someone else. Being a libertarian DOES NOT mean that I have a slavish devotion to corporate hierarchy, consumerism, or crony capitalism. In fact, I hate all three of those things… though the last is the most offensive because it violates both my personal preferences and my libertarian philosophy. Crony capitalism is the use of government (read: guns) to prohibit others from competing (read: acting freely) in order to make money. That isn’t just un-libertarian, that is evil.

Being against government is the easy part of libertarianism, it is well defined and fits neatly into a black and white world view. Violence is wrong, government action is all violence, therefore government is wrong. While many conversations and debates can be had on issues of practicality or the utilitarian results of reducing government the ethics behind it easily stand. Many libertarians believe that libertarian philosophy stops with government, I am not one of those libertarians. Government is certainly a destructive force posing as the “will of the people” or communal action, our fight doesn’t end at anarchy… our fight continues until bigotry, sexism, and any power that treats one life as less than another or sees equality as the enemy is destroyed. It may be easy to see the government as the only true use of coercion against people but that is not reflective of reality.

Coercion, harm, oppression, and the other ills that libertarians strongly philosophically oppose do not exist solely in the realm of governments and criminals. Mental harm can come from harassment, bullying, and generations of institutional (government or otherwise) discrimination have very real harmful effects. We have learned enough about the human brain to know that it can be harmed, even if it is not touched physically. Libertarians would benefit from recognizing the legitimate claims that harm exist outside of the state and defeat of the state will not solve the destructive forces of racism or sexism.

So yes, I am a libertarian. I believe in markets, economic freedom, and personal freedom to do what you wish as long as you don’t harm others… but I believe that harm comes in many forms and is a more complex concept than “no physical force”. And yes, I am a hippie. I believe in loving people first and foremost, love is limitless, I enjoy expanding my views of the world, I find the body beautiful and enjoy being naked as often as possible, and I believe complete freedom cannot come until we cast of the shackles that we place on others and ourselves. In the end I feel most at home in where my libertarianism and hippyness combine, a place that is peaceful, anarchist, accepting, and loving (ie Burning Man). In the end, the labels are worthless.

I am me, part of we, and that is fucking awesome.

Leg 6: East Coast, Beast Coast

Leg 6 takes us from the wonderful city of Pittsburgh down the east coast and all the way to Florida. This will be quite the climate and environment change as we visit mountains, swamps, forests, and coastal cities. There will be tons of old friends and Facebook buddies along this leg so it should be a lot of fun, but 2000 miles over 40ish days will be physically challenging as well. Some of the great sites include:

Leg 6

  • Green Bank Telescope
  • CO Bike Trail
  • Washington DC
  • Charleston, SC… seriously, greatest. city. ever.
  • Savannah, GA
  • Six Flags America
  • Broadway at the Beach!
  • The Atlantic Ocean
  • New Years in Southern Florida!

I am an introvert… really!

When I define myself as an introvert it seems to really surprise people, particularly those people who know me primarily online via Facebook or this blog. I can understand this perception… I’m obviously comfortable naked (particularly in public), I share my intimate experiences, I very vocally advocate for non-traditional relationships, and I fully participate in communities like Burning Man. I’m not a shy person usually, particularly if I am even remotely comfortable, but I am still an introvert.

Introverts are not defined by how active they are in public, it is all about how they get energized. I get exhausted when interacting with strangers, particularly when there is small talk involved, so I hate “mixers”, networking, happy hours, and any other form of forced association with people I don’t know. I am not a fan of dancing or clubs, even bars tend to drain me unless I am with close friends. One night out a week is plenty for me and I would rather lounge at home watching Netflix or reading than go out… but I have also found a way to be an introvert but be social and lose the shyness when in public.

The most important thing for me is to have close friends I can retreat to even in social environments. Yes, I did a naked bike ride, but I did it with my partner and one of my best friends and the entire time I hung out with them. Yes, I share moments I have but these moments are with people I love and I share them on the internet but I can control what feedback I get in these venues. I need the people I am closest to around me, I would be lost and exhausted and anxious without them. My dearest open-minded friends are now geographically close to me which is part of the reason you don’t see many events like the ones above from my time in Washington DC.

Another tool in my “I’m introverted but want to get out there and have adventures” is a having a distraction. I don’t like dancing when people can see my face but if I have a firestaff, a mask on, or some sort of LED tool that distracts it helps me break out of my shell. While logically I realize on a logical level that on a dance floor or out on the Playa I am hardly the focus of attention for anyone it still helps me to have a distraction that is within my control… the whole experience drains me less when the focus isn’t on me. Actually, in retrospect this paragraph is more about shyness than introversion but I wrote it so I might as well leave it…. maybe someone will get some value out of it.

As an introvert I store energy by being alone, I stay energy “neutral” when with close trusted friends, and I exert a lot of energy when dealing with strangers. Now, it doesn’t take long for some people to move from stranger to close friend, but my close friend circle still stays small in numbers. That is just how I operate, I may not understand extroverts who love going out nightly to happy hours or want to talk when they get home from work, but the beauty of this world is the diversity and I don’t need to understand. Extroverts create beauty, just like introverts do, and if we can respect our different ways of processing energy I think we can all learn from each other.