My brother paused either for dramatic effect or for a moment of silent reflection.
“The two-hour drive in the Runner from Maine to New Hampshire, a fresh lip in…just cruising.”
I liked that. Amid holiday parties and nights out there could be a moment of total ease, with the wheels rolling and a tobacco buzz humming. The feeling that even though you’re on your way somewhere, you’re not really in any hurry. You’ll get there when you get there. Things will happen as they do.
Contentment implies a certain smugness. You’ve figured it out. No, it’s not that. It’s just that the Runner sounds good. The scenery is nice. It’s warm inside – cold outside.
If I had to guess – and certainly this is a guess, I imagine it felt something like Texas Sun.
“In order not to leave any traces, when you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire. You should not be a smoky fire. You should burn yourself completely. If you do not burn yourself completely, a trace of yourself will be left in what you do. You will have something remaining which is not completely burned out. Zen activity is activity which is completely burned out, with nothing remaining but ashes. This is the goal of our practice.” – Shunryū Suzuki
“Take it all off,” I said, making a lazy motion to the top of my head. This was my third time with Cait. We were starting to get to know each other. She knew what I liked, but this time I wanted something different.
“So, the clippers?” she asked, brandishing them like a samurai sword.
Cait has curly hair and considers herself to be an anarchist. She lives in the Tenderloin, the bleeding heart of San Francisco, and one day she wants to open her own therapy practice.
I said yes and stared back at myself in the mirror, trying to imagine a new, tougher me. I was angry. Angry at happy couples. Angry at ads on TV. Angry at fucking anything I wanted to be angry at! And for some reason getting rid of my hair felt like the best way to shed all that.
Cait started with the buzzer at four, just in case I changed my mind. We started chatting about her recent breakup – an engineer who made a lot of money and never talked about his feelings. They’d done couples therapy for a year and then one day he just proclaimed it was over. Shit is fucked, I said.
“Amy is going through the same thing,” she said, pointing the buzzer in the direction of a woman standing above the other chair. Amy is tatted and wears Red Wings. Her hair is long and braided, and hangs beneath a fisherman’s beanie perched on top of her head.
“She came in this morning and wanted to shave her head.” Amy nodded. I pictured two braids being swept off the floor.
Cait told me that hair had energy. She told me she was glad she got the apartment. She might have to find a roommate. Her mom was threatening to visit for Thanksgiving. And then she told me she was going to use scissors for the top, and if I woke up in the morning and really wanted it all gone, she’d do it for free.
“I wrote a poem today,” said my good friend, who I’m pretty sure had never written a poem. We were smoking a joint – leaving the real world behind. I asked if he would read it out loud. He said yes, so we sat down on a park bench, smoked the rest of the joint, and once we were both feeling jittery and nervous, he launched into it.
Enough with the soul searching! Enough with the feet crossed zenned-out meditation bullshit! We want music!
Fuck, new music is everywhere right now. And of course it’s absolutely true that the less you actively look for it, the more it seems to spring out at you from every direction. The days that I skim through Discover Weekly anxiously searching for the next thing, are usually not the moments when I find something sticky.
If I have one film at the end of the day that I can watch, it’s gonna be a Will Ferrell. That’s where I want to go. But if I like the film, if I like the scene, if I feel something good about the scene, something truthful—I don’t mean ‘like’; I can dislike, but if I know it’s quality—if I feel that way about the film at the end, I know someone else will. I can’t guarantee you it’ll be a mass audience or it’ll be a small audience, but I know. And I’ve always kind of operated that way. Meaning I know when it’s a bit smelly. You know? When it’s all said and done and it smells, I know.”
A few months later and I was starting to feel good again. I was forty-something days into burying myself in Sam Harris and Joe Rogan podcasts and was beginning to get into the groove of a loose and not-so serious meditation routine.
Sam was getting me to be in the present. Random shit moved me, like a woman on MUNI with a shaky hand or long walks with just the right amount of downhill. I started to understand why people love taking psychedelics. Awareness of the present moment is fucking sweet.
But there was one thing Sam Harris couldn’t convince me of. You have no head. There is no writer of thoughts. No person sitting back there shuffling cards. The very concept of “I” is just an appearance in consciousness, like a smell or a thought.
Abandon your ego! Basically what everyone says when they come back from Burning Man. It seemed weird but I gave it a go, trying to convince myself on a crowded bus that subjective and objective could be the same, but bumping up against people just reinforced a sense of clear and distinct boundaries.
I kept at it. And by some stroke of luck ended up at a party outside of Pescadero – a Hipcamp designed for ayuascha retreats, fully operational with drums, meditation pillows, and a stripper pole.
Beers were had. Weed was smoked. Dinner was neglected. And at some point a guy handed me a piece of torn up paper and said, “please write down who you think you are.” He went around the fire telling everyone to write down their occupation or their name or whatever they wanted really. I was too far gone to be able to see where any of it was going and so feeling very clever I wrote down in terrible, drunk chicken scratch, “I am me,” and then slunk off to my tent.
When I woke up the next morning my head didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. I looked outside and saw Charley rolling up his rain fly.
“What time did you Irish exit last night?” he asked. I told him it was right around the time some guy asked me to write down who I was on a piece of paper.
Charley laughed and told me they’d thrown the pieces of paper into the fire and watched them turn into smoke, and suddenly all I could think about was what must have gone up in flames – I am me.