I have a delightful memory from last summer, of Friday night at Burning Man, being out and about with two beautiful girls from Portland we met; real underground babes with dynamite style, impeccable festival pedigrees, and at least a decade's worth of world traveling and other bohemia under their belts, all without ever showing taxable income. "Gone chicks," an older generation of beat writer might say. I wrote about this obliquely before, but never told the story itself.
We'd met earlier in the week when they sheltered with us through a dust storm, and bonded over knuckle tats and their delicious lavender vodka cocktails, just a good honest click with the whole group, and so naturally it seemed we should all rendezvous and ramble the night together. Though the whole pack started out as one, the girls and I got separated from Mark and Zya fairly early -- no worries, just the way things flow -- and the three of us ended up making a great convivial loop of the grounds on foot over the course of the night, dance party to dance party to dance party and yon.
Somewhere around the 2-o-clock mark (geographic, not temporal) there was a hip hop stage going next to a geodesic dome that had been flipped or crushed by the windstorm during the day. A very post-apocalyptic scene. It was plastered with placards anticipating this summer's Students For A Free Tibet actions: broken Olympic rings with the clever slogan "Games Over." Presiding were a couple of young MCs doing an excellent job of riding the waves of psychedelic energy -- something I'd never really experienced before: rap on drugs -- bounding through some pre-set rhymes and inspired freestyles, beatboxing and bits of DJ noodling holding it all together. It was open-air and the dance floor had room to maneuver, which was fun. People were giving it full-throttle energy, and the MCs picked up on crowd antics as part of their flow. The lyrics that stick with me are a improvised riff about "my whole posse of unicorns" (in response to the appearance of some hot girls with unicorn hats) and a pre-written verse extolling the Northwest that had a great rhythmic return to the phrase "comfortable with ________" that concluded (cleverly) with "comfortable with the fact you can't find it on a map."
I was having a great time, just hanging with these new friends, being "the beautiful people" out on the town, feeling pretty and strong and free. I don't tend to get too confused out there even under the most adverse (psilocybin) circumstances, and so sort of fell into a role of tour-guiding. They'd listen for some good sounds and I'd figure out how to get us there. We skimmed a few other places -- some low-rent dub reggae art-car with a guy singing unimaginatively about getting fucked up; a couple rave palaces too full and dark and laser-ridden to really relax and get into -- and eventually decided to stroll across the open playa gandering at the various artistic impossibilities and making witty repartee. "I trust this guy," one of them said to the other, in reference to my guiding skills (and overall character, I like to think), and it made me feel pretty good.
On the other side we found the right spot to spend the heart of the evening, a large old-style rectangular red and white striped circus tent with two separate stages and a cavalcade of DJ stylings. By the feel of things, some of the people in the crowd knew who the performers were, were followers or fans from the real world, which lent a kind of nice familial vibe to the space. It was hot and steamy inside, and so I stripped off the top of my flight suit and tied it around my waist, which made the legs a bit baggy, but still workable. We all grooved around the scene in our own ways, moving back and forth between the heavy heated interior and the cool dry dance-party extension going on around the big open flap entrance.
Lots of good memories from that tent. There was a fantastic musical bridge which dove from a semi-ambient "sounds of space" moment though a single iteration of Willie Nelson singing "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys" with plenty of reverb, drawing whoops and hollers from the crowd, and then right back into the bouncing dirty breakbeats that were the order of the evening. There was the guy who popped up on the second stage and started with a really hard/heavy Rammstein remix which the crowd was collectively unsure of for about a half a minute, but then gave into completely and started pogoing and punching the air for the next 15. There was the Strawberry Fields number that everyone seemed to know but me, the dashing couple who'd fashioned four of five foot tall giraffe hats (easy to spot one another on a crowded floor), the posse of heady dready asskickers in leather who weren't afraid to breakdance in the dirt, beautiful people doing powerful things every which way you looked. I was all happening, as they say.
Ultimately we began to run low on water and energy; there was some other famous Freak Nasty party going round by rumor, the best DJ set of the night obviously wouldn't start until at least 4am it was said, but we were all pretty much danced-out, and so found a little chillout spot to sit at for a bit. It was fairly overcrowded with sleeping kids, but still we found a few chairs, although we were forced to share our space with a highly opinionated (and highly soused) Englishman in a purple suit, who wanted to tell/condescend to us all about America. I didn't take well to that, but restrained myself for the most part, and eventually he moved on, and we collected ourselves for the lengthy trudge back to their camp, where I dropped them off before putting myself to bed for the night.
It was a fabulous evening. I had a little crush on one of the girls naturally, but nothing came of that other than a bit of dancy flirting and few moments of harmonic resonation that slipped through my fingers. I still think about that, not because I'm too likely see this woman again, but because it's a crystal-clear example of the sort of reluctance or avoidance I want to overcome. I don't know what might have happened if I let that energy out rather than duckin' and dodging it, probably not a lot, but I do know I missed them the next night, though this missing was in and of itself a truly valuable experience, and fit in perfectly with the alternate scene we had of Deep Playa and Townes Van Zant.
At the time -- after being up through to Sunday morning dawn and opening the sunrise saloon with a jug of whiskey and amplified Waylon Jennings -- I settled on a great old phrase from Virgil: Fortune Favors the Bold. That advice didn't quite make the leap from theory to practice right away: my fall got off to a rocky start with second degree burns and turmoil/turnover at work leading into a winter without a true vacation. But it's still there, and lately in heavy rotation as a personal axiom of living, getting more and more lived-out every day.
So, wherever they are, southeast Portland or southeast Asia, I hope those girls are still manifesting their own brand of eden. You're an inspiration to us all.
Back to the Precious Present
This all ties in with the here and the now because of that increasingly lived-out quality of the Virgil quote. As my partner Matt likes to say (quoting Captain Kirk no less) "risk is our business." Lately, I've been able to let go more and more of my half-grudgingly assumed role of conservative naysayer in my work, and as it tends to be this is a signal shift in my overall life as well. Things are popping.
This hasn't been without significant external stimulus. I give huge credit to Julia for dragging me away from the office and down to Coachella on her charmed-life VIP wristband coattails. That got me out of the routine. I also give big ups to Andy "Bad Motherfucker" Smith for that weekend being a role-model of unrepentant and yet still entirely human/humane success. As I've expressed, I worry about my good fortune going to my head, hubris, turning into a power-mad douchebag, a corrupt monster unable or unwilling to make common cause with the little people. Seeing others who are able to self-consciously and admirably negotiate this life-position -- being blessed with talent, strength, good looks, and a whole lotta luck -- lends significant wind to my sails.
As a dear correspondent of mine (who also deserves some credit for my renaissance in mood) said recently, it's a worthy thing to hold oneself to a Dylan-esque standard of perpetual "becoming." History has no end, whether we're talking national or personal, and illusions to the contrary likely obscure worthwhile or even vital truths. I'm not sure exactly how the movie of my life plays out from here. Where's the template for self-made entrepreneurs who eschew the traditional trappings of success in favor of a countrified half/life and fixed-gear bikes? Hard to tell. I think this somehow relates to the whole growing up in my own way thing.
And so when I flash back to great memories of wild nights like that, I wonder. It's not as though my experience is in any way literally unique -- there are hundreds if not thousands of people out there doing exactly the same stuff as me, and orders of magnitude more with plenty of venn-diagram overlap -- but it is the kind of thing that doesn't really fit the mold. It seems I'm blessed and cursed with a life of exploration, a path part and parcel with being a self-starter and a hustler.
It gets tricky though when you realize that your quest to operate without a boss has led you to become a boss of sorts -- when it's not just you out there blazing trails and crashing through the bushes, but a whole gang of people counting on you to lead the right way.
The only way I know how to play this is to follow on that Virgil advice, to be bold and just do right. I've been hedging around the edges for long enough: the time to embrace this new challenge has come, and I'm on it. The charmed life continues -- I sit here writing in balmy sunshine weather on my back porch couch bed sipping emergen-c in my underwear -- and it feels inevitable that as things progress more people will become a part of the web, become in some way bound up in the things that I do. That's the hardest, scariest, and therefore probably most important thing to accept and embrace.
Same goes for matters of the heart. You can't get very far if you're constantly second-guessing your own moral compass, worrying about hurting anyone else's feelings. Self-confidence is the essence of all sex-appeal, and that means having a little faith for a change, a little more of that "I trust this guy" spirit towards the old self.