“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.
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.
Something I love about music is the beautiful pairings that exist between landscape and music. Creedence matches with an open highway, Bon Iver is meant for a cozy cabin, Real Estate is best suited for a sunny, coastal cruise. These things just feel natural.
For some time now, I’ve found that the desert and electronic music are a natural fit, and as I was driving around New Mexico recently, I pondered why.
It could be that most highways in the desert have speed limits of 75 or more; electronic beats serve as a good backdrop to high speeds.
It could be that Joshua Tree trip last year, of which the unofficial sponsor was cigarettes and EDM. Petey with the sticks, it felt like the only option.
It could be the influence of Burning Man. Shit, whether you’ve been or not, perhaps the magnetic allure of the event has subconsciously instilled in us this alignment of electronic music and the desert.
But ultimately, I think this happy marriage is explained quite simply: the desert is a fucking weird place. When you move through strange, barren and endless landscapes, there’s something that naturally broadens your thoughts, opens up the mind. And while the vast desert stimulates your senses, electronic music just feels right.
Here are a few cruisers – some new, some old – that opened things up in New Mex.
“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.
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.
There were mesh sandals and tracksuits. Accents. Large, boisterous families. Roller bags designed in foreign countries. A frighteningly boring safety video as we took off from Dublin. An empty Paris airport, escalators pointing in every direction. Glamorous men and women bubbling – sucking cigarettes. And us — me and Kelsey watching and sucking cigarettes as well, doing our best to blend in, maybe even add something to the mix.
In Biarritz there was pumping surf and sun-bathing women. The very first night we stood by the ocean, clutching beer, listening to a DJ play disco with ink running down his arms. He swayed and flicked the mixer – someone in the crowd cooed.
It felt good to be away from the entrance of a restaurant or the sliding doors of a bus. Ordering beer was easy, but other things – really basic shit – like asking for water or the bill, was still awkward.
But somehow we’d woken up in a central vein of French coolness, masked by cigarette smoke and a speedy, hip-spinning beat. The music swelled – getting faster – two women approached the mixing board with carefree intention.
I lit another cigarette, surely the last of the night, and passed it to Kelsey. The smoke curled around us, rising to join other trails of smoke winding up towards the hill. With each puff I felt more at ease, just another glowing ember in the night.