Resolutions in Instagram: #20 & #59 New State, Old Friends

I love surprises. But, I’m generally pretty terrible at executing them because I’m generally pretty terrible at keeping secrets. I finally pulled one off, though, with the help of a brilliant surprise-executing friend. My good friends Jake and Jenn moved away from good ‘ol Austin about 9 months ago and–like all long distance relationships–we miss each other terribly.

I wish I could claim the idea was entirely mine, but Jake threw out the idea that as a birthday gift for Jenn’s milestone 30th birthday, I could fly in to visit and bring a little piece of Austin to her in good ‘ol Indiana. So, somehow…some way..and thanks to some brilliant misdirection on Jake’s part, I managed to completely surprise her!

Resolution #26 / #59 : Visit a Friend in Another State & Visit a New US State

(Evidently she thought family was coming over. Surprise!)

I will be the first to admit that I didn’t know the first thing about Indiana. I didn’t know what was there, other than the Indy 500, and I was only vaguely familiar with where it is geographically (don’t judge me). Turns out that there’s a whole lot of farm land, but also a lot of really fun places to explore…

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…even when it’s 25 degrees outside. That’s like a tourist attraction in itself. If you were able to swipe that picture of an iPhone screen you’d be able to see that at the very same moment it was a pleasant 73 degrees in Austin, TX. Cold weather does two things for me, makes me really happy first of all, because you rarely experience real cold in Austin, but also makes me really appreciate the Texas heat, which is really hard to appreciate most of the time.

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We explored some little shops downtown where I got my obligatory coffee mug for my collection. I get one from every place I go, and they generally have no obvious connection to the place I was–except for that I remember getting it there. This is my newest addition, the Tea-Rex. It came from a quirky little store called Silver in the City, which also has an online store if you’d like to peruse their quirky goods. It’s on MassAve which is apparently the slightly condensed Indianapolis equivalent of Austin’s SoCo. It was also home to a toy store that I really wish I would have known about as a child because I’d have insisted that my mom fly me to Indiana to visit it…and purchase one of everything. Plus, a whole bunch of little boutiques that I only wish I’d had more time to explore.

544464_10151554694211635_2536704_nIt was also pleasant to discover that the good people of Indianapolis have your self-esteem in mind. Not only are the people extremely friendly, but even the buildings are proud to announce to the world that you are–indeed–a beautiful person. Thanks Indy.

image (3)Next, we made a day trip to Nashville in the famous (is it famous? I’m not sure.) Brown County, a small tourist town about an hour or so away from Indianapolis. This photo has almost nothing to do with Nashville, Indiana except for that that’s where it’s taken, but you’ll see here that one of the many reasons that one should pay a visit to the little town is that it is home to a very responsible generation of children, who apparently lock up their tricycles.

In all seriousness, though, we went specifically to sample the fried biscuits and apple butter at the Nashville House Restaurant connected to the Brown County Inn. This is one of those culinary delights that I can confidently say is WORTH the drive, which is actually a really nice one through plenty of hills and tall tress, a huge difference from the flatlands of nearby Indianapolis. You don’t even have to order real food. An order of those biscuits and apple butter will keep you going all morning.

It wasn’t just about the biscuits, though. I’m not sure what exactly I can compare this town too, other than Gruene, TX if anyone knows where that is. It’s like stepping back in time where all of the shops are mom-and-pop shops, all of the products are made locally (okay, ALMOST), for some reason everyone sells fudge no matter what kind of shop it is and you get to try everything before you buy it.

The only dead giveaway was that I don’t know if they used the term “Big Ass Cookie” back in the day.

photo (8)But, hey, “big ass” sells. Got to get up with the times, eh?  I might suggest that they create a set of signs for their “Damn Good” coffee too.

Next, I got to meet the Tea Rex’s cousin at the world’s largest children’s museum.

image (4)Guy really should start watching where he’s going.  …First of all, having a dinosaur step on your foot is less than pleasant, but I’m okay. That building, however, yeah, that’s going to cost a pretty penny.

This museum should be on the list of things every child needs to see before they get too old to appreciate it, like Disney World and Sesame Street Live. I’m not a kid anymore, but the child in my heart leaped at the sight of 5 stories of pure, educational discovery. …Does that make me a nerd?

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The must see thing here is the giant carousel on the 4th level which was our first stop. I’d forgotten how magical those things are. I almost even made the mistake of telling Jake and Jenn that I would simply watch, but I boarded anyway and there’s just something special about that classical organ music and glossy plastic animals that makes your heart happy.

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I also got to look like a badass building a free standing arch with the unbelievable powers of physics, visit the real Batman suite and Riddler costumes from the Batman movies, drool over real life, giant Hot Wheels and poke around in Egypt for a minute or two. Again, I’m going to have to go back with more time because the entire thing is IMMENSE and couldn’t possibly be explored in one trip.

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So, I got me some space food for the road and we headed back to the house. I’m not sure I could be an astronaut after eating this, but for all the science that goes into putting cold dairy desserts below -40 degrees farenheit and drying it to make it shelf stable, this stuff was really good. But, the real food adventure was not anti-frozen ice cream.  It was this… the last new experience in Indianapolis was a doozy…and frankly had nothing to do with Indianapolis, but I have a long standing record of ridiculous and potentially disgusting food challenges with Jake. And so….

9208c3b69f1c11e2bc0822000a1f9737_7Canned…Haggis.  Do you guys even know what is in this stuff? Lungs…heart…EYES.  It was perfect. So, we spent the evening eating warm haggis on mini ritz crackers and enjoying each other’s company, before I finally had to say my goodbyes and head home. Do I recommend haggis?  You know…it’s not that bad, but better enjoyed with an adventurous friend.

I love visiting new places, but this whole trip just taught me that new adventures are fun, but new adventures with old friends are priceless. Thanks again, Jake and Jenn! I’ll be back soon.

Exactly What I Wanted, In None of the Ways I Planned

Today is December 20, 2012. There are currently 11 days left in the year, and I almost can’t believe that it’s so close to coming to an end. I started this blog on December 31, 2011 with all sorts of intentions. In all honesty, I was feeling bored more than anything. Bored with myself, with life. It was a good life, a GREAT life in fact. I had accomplished all I wanted to so far, had a lot of great things going on with relationships, friendships and family. I was happy–but something felt like it was missing. I saw this massive global awakening happening: people discovering things about themselves, taking action on things they were passionate about, really growing and living while I sat at home and kept going with my day-to-day routine like I had for years. I decided to go, do, see, and be anything and everything. After all, how easy is it to really grow and learn about the universe around you when you’re always looking at it through the same window?

It began simply. A list. 112 things that I would like to experience in a year’s time. I feel much more accomplished when I can check things off a list. But, and I can not even put into words the pure and raw emotion behind this statement: This year is ending exactly as I’d hoped, but in none of the ways that I planned.

I know many of you noticed that my posts started dwindling in frequency near the middle of the year. While I still held hope for completing my list, my world was changing dramatically all around me. I made one decision, one that does not appear anywhere on my list, that ended up–albeit indirectly–sparking that awakening that I was so longing for when 2012 started.

This may not be the most pleasant story, but stick with me here. This one, single decision catapulted me into a place that I did not know existed for me. While I have had my dark moments in life, I can say with confidence that I have always felt like my life has been relatively easy. I’ve been very very lucky. I had friends that loved me, no enemies to speak of, a solid support system, and very little uncertainty about my future and where I was going in my life.

Suddenly, this all changed.

Every cell inside of me that had felt restricted by the life I’d been living before burst forth from within me, pushing me to be wild, completely unpredictable, even to myself, and in many ways a little self-destructive. I no longer had any idea what I was doing, where I was going, and worse–I had no idea what I even wanted out of life anymore. I was, in every sense of the word, lost. The way I see it, though, is that while the path you are walking on may be comfortable and familiar, sometimes you have to divert and get a little bit lost in order to find another path that you may not have known existed, but could be better for you than you could have imagined.

Lucky enough for me, there were a few people who, despite recognizing that I was flailing uncontrollably, were willing to hold my hand, literally and figuratively while I went through all the stages of destruction and regrowth. (Is a phoenix rising from the ashes a cliché?  Because it’s appropriate here.) They stayed up with me at all hours because all I needed was someone to sit with me because I just needed to–cry. Or talk. Or just…simply sit in the company of someone else and do nothing at all. Some of these people had known me a long time, some people met me just as this all began, but regardless of how long they had known me, or how well, they had faith in me and recognized that though people sometimes have moments of darkness, that they do indeed rise out of it again.

Truly, I find myself thankful for this gift, these people, more than anything else, this holiday season.

Very slowly I started looking inside again, at what I needed as a person, at flaws, fears and insecurities I needed to resolve. I talked myself blue in the face, to myself or anyone else who would listen. I started to meditate again. I picked my pen back up and started to write again. And of course, pushed myself to complete as many more resolutions as I could.

I can’t say that it was prompted by any one particular event, but eventually it started to feel like the fog was lifting. I heard myself speaking with confidence again about what I wanted and needed on a soul level–not just a materialistic one. As this year begins to draw to a close, and on the eve of this milestone date 12/21/12, I can honestly say that I feel like I am on the right track again.

I am well aware that I still have many things to work through, to figure out.  I will probably spend the rest of my life feeling this way, because life IS evolution and growth, but it;s a relief to realize that when I sit down and allow myself to be very quiet, that I feel calm. I feel as though I have the people in my life that are meant to be in it, though some are playing roles that I didn’t expect. I feel as though I recognize what is important to me, not because someone told me it should be important, but because it actually means something to me. And most of all, I feel as though I can release my fear. I finally recognize that although things can get bad, although you can get lost in a way that you don’t think you’ll find your way back again, you do, and when that happens you may find yourself in a completely different but far more beautiful place.

I am working on a brand-new resolution list for 2013, with a new focus based on all I’ve discovered this year. I can’t wait to share it with all of you and keep this adventure going for another crazy year. It’s been so fantastic to hear from the friends and the strangers who have followed my journey so far, so thank you from the bottom of my heart for going along for the ride with me.

And of course, I don’t want to forget!  There were a few resolutions that I completed and sadly never had the chance to write about so I want to at least list and give recognition here that I didn’t quite complete the whole list, but I got a few more things done and want to say a public thanks to everyone who was involved because I didn’t do a single one of these alone:

Resolution #4: Spend a Night on the 3rd floor of the Driskill: This came SO close to happening but fell through at the last minute.  But, I did get to hang out at the Driskill on Halloween of all days and had a blast while it lasted.

Resolution #5: Learn to Play and Sing a Song on Guitar: I got pretty close but did not perfect Hurt by Johnny Cash. I also almost got “The Only Exception” by Paramore under my belt.  I really need to practice more.

Resolution #7: Learn to Deep Fry. I ate so much fried food this day I made myself sick. Including an entire fried snickers bar, Oreos and a plethora of meat and veggies. …That snickers one is going to have to happen again sometime.

Resolution #16: Start a Balcony Garden: I moved into a house so we no longer have a balcony, but my roommate and I started a mason jar window sill garden with herbs. My cilantro was the only one out of four plants that sprouted…and then I forgot to water it… 😦

Resolution #18: Run a 5k: I actually did this one better and ran the 5 MILE Turkey Trot race with my family on Thanksgiving Day.  I managed to finish the 5 miles in just over an hour, and I am so proud of my mom, she worked hard on her fitness all year and completed this as her big coupe de grace this year.

Resolution #25: Learn More About Buddhism: I wanted to do more with this, but did actually seek out more info on Buddhism.  I read a great book called Dharma Punx by Noah Levine that taught me quite a bit, and visited a Buddhist Zendo here in Austin called the Austin Meditation Center and learned about tradition Buddhist Zen Meditation. I want to look more into this next year.

Resolution #38: Have Matching Couples Halloween Costume: Dru and I hand-made, and pulled off quite nicely if I do say so myself, costumes for Amber Sweet and The Graverobber from Repo! The Genetic Opera. And bonus, I now own a custom tailored cage skirt (thanks Dru!) and a rhinestone bra.

Resolution #43: Learn a Magic Trick: Dane taught me a couple of pretty great card tricks and then gifted me the deck so that I could practice. 🙂 I’m going to have to bust them out at a party sometime.

Resolution #57: Go to an Austin Music Festival: This was going to be Part Two of my most recent post (recent being October) but I never wrote it out. I managed to get a wristband for a day of ACL and had a BLAST with my friend Nicole getting to see as many bands as humanly possible in one day’s time. Even got a see a few great late night shows as well.

Resolution #61: Go Stargazing in the Middle of Nowhere: One of the coolest things about meeting new people is getting to know their favorite secret spots. I got to spend a really great night, in great company, out in the middle of a green belt with two bottles of wine, a waterfall and a sky full of stars. What’s better?

Resolution #70: Go to a Bar by Myself: This happened a couple of times but i never checked it off because I never had the courage to actually sit at the actual bar alone. I always found a book to hide in or a table to occupy. Seems I still have issues being alone in public.

Resolution #97: Go to an Alamo Drafthouse Event: I took my cousin, who was visiting from overseas, to Terror Tuesday featuring the 80’s disgust-o-flick The Blob. We did it up right with the comfy balcony seats at the Ritz, local brews, and lots of snacks.  And its only $3 or something for regular admission?! I’m going again sometime!

Resolution #99: Support a Cause I Believe In: I donated a lot of money this year to different causes. Hurricane Sandy relief most recently, I supported entrepreneurship in Kenya, bought a mosquito net for an area that had problems with Malaria, but I still feel like I need to be more proactive before I can really check this off my list.

Resolution #109: Do Hot Yoga: Let me just say, this is TOUGH, but a great experience and a perfect winter-weather exercise bit. A cold front just came in tonight, maybe I should dust off the yoga mat again.

Thanks again for a wonderful year and I’ll see you in 2013!

Things You Learn at Festivals Part One: Texas Renaissance Festival

October is always a very interesting month for me. The weather’s changing, people are gearing up for the holidays, and for whatever reason it always plays host to some of my grandest adventures.  It has ever since I was little, and this year is no different.

Resolution #41: Go to a Renaissance Festival

October also marks the beginning of the Texas Renaissance Festival season so Dru and I headed out for opening weekend.  And, as with anything you do with Dru, if you’re gonna do something you’re going to go all out. With the help of a mutual friend, we got a Ren Faire costume together for me (since exactly none of my clothes really fit the bill) including a rib-cracking corset, poofy sleeves, stockings and my very own pair of pirate boots.

Going all out also means not just going for the day and going back to the comfort of your home at night.  Nope, it means packing up your tent and heading out to the campgrounds for the weekend, because while the faire itself is magnificent, there’s a whole other facet to the faire experience out on the campgrounds.

The camping situation reminds me a lot of the burn we went to a couple of months ago (Orfunner).  Tons of people, some in costume, some half naked, all in varying stages of inebriation. While I’ve never been the “party girl” type, I’m really starting to enjoy these kinds of events. It’s not so much the party aspect as it is HUGE gathering of people bonding over a common interest.  Its not just any campground, with unrelated pockets of strangers who want nothing to do with each other.  Everyone is there for the same reason and are closer because of it. It’s slightly less “We love everyone!” than Orfunner and slightly more “Does anyone know where I can get some [insert intoxicating substance here].”  With a similar amount of drum circle. But, I honestly just love anywhere that I can find like-minded people, which I’m learning is hard to do just anywhere these days.

Saturday morning we woke up early to get into costume and get ready to head into the actual faire grounds.  Lesson One: Bring coffee with you. For god’s sake. Especially if you’re an addict like me.  I really hope to invest in a camping coffee maker one day, but this time around we invested in some of those bottled cappuccino things in order to avoid the terrifying uncertainty around coffee availability like we encountered at Orfunner.  But, I digress.

Lesson Two: Corsets kind of suck, but Jesus Christ your waist will never look so good. I’m not exaggerating.  I let Dru lace me into my corset and immediately lost probably 5 inches from my waist.  This was thrilling…for the 17 steps it took me to get from the tent to the car, when suddenly I succumbed to a bout of claustrophobia and the familiar and terrifying cold, clammy feeling of nearing unconsciousness.  Now I know why you never see anyone smiling in renaissance era portraits.  I had to have him loosen my corset at least 3 times before I finally felt like I’d make it through the day.  But, even with a few inches back…. I still love the thing.

Voila, the complete outfits:

Now, inside the faire grounds is a whole other world that I can’t even really compare to anything else.  I suppose it’s the point to be transported back in time, and they definitely succeed.  I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to walk through an entrance to find yourself surrounded by people calling you “my lady,” and trying to sell you flowers and swords and jewels. …Is the what the renaissance was like?  I would like to go there please. Although I’m sure the renaissance was devoid of things like fairies, demons and an abundance of giant pickles, cotton candy and fried everything, so…maybe I’ll just stick with the festival instead.

We caught some shows.  Adam Crack the fire whip master:

And, a man who would gladly take your money to humiliate and insult you or your friends.  …I would have been crushed…so I didn’t stick around for that one.  I’m a little sensitive.

Tried our hand at some archery.

And, did a LOT of window shopping. Corsets, weaponry, leather work, ceramics, jewelry, anything you could ask for, there was a shop for it. These are no dinky souvenirs, either.  The people who run these shops are seriously skilled craftsmen. Sadly, the prices on their wares also reflect that…which is why I specify ‘window shopping.’ Though I did walk away with a hand-made mug for my coffee mug collection. I couldn’t resist.  And Dru bought me a rose from a flower girl. Otherwise, we were content to browse.

There was so much to see and do that I’m sure that there was stuff that I missed.  Elephant rides. Parades. Petting zoos. Big dragon swings. There was a place where you could get your picture taken with a monkey.  Lesson Three: Bring your children to Ren Faire. It should be a requirement, kind of like Disney World. This place is magical, and seeing the looks on the children’s faces when they got to hug a fairy and cross swords with a pirate was just priceless.  I’m not a child anymore (though my inner child is alive and well) and even I got giddy at all the sights and sounds around me. After hours of walking, though, our feet were protesting loudly in our pirate boots and there was a cold front blowing in, so we decided to head back to camp for some warmer clothes, food and post-faire libations.

The group that we camped with prepared a FEAST, complete with chicken, steak, sausage, tortillas, veggies and plenty of beverage to go around.  Though we weren’t official dues-paying members of their group they were still very generous and allowed us to take part with them. There’s nothing better than a belly full of delicious camp-cooked food after a long day.

With our appetites satisfied we set out into the open campgrounds in search of adventures.  We picked up some friends from other camps and wandered a bit.  Lesson Four: There is nothing better than a gigantic bonfire on a cold night.  We hung out there for a while, watching the fire spinners and trying to absorb as much warmth as humanly possible since at this point it was dropping into the 50’s.  (Pretty freaking cold for us Texans.)  Then, we turned to the sound of chanting and cheering behind us.

“What’s going on over there?”

Giant Jenga, was the answer. You know, that Hasbro game from your childhood where you stack up the blocks and the remove and re-stack them one by one until someone knocks it over and loses? But, this was not just any giant Jenga.  This one had a twist.  There is an action written on each Jenga block, and if you play and successfully pull a block, you must do the action on the block you pulled.  As I stood and watched to get a feel for the game I watched things like…”Kiss the Game Master (the one running the game),” “Motorboat the largest breasts in the crowd” and then things as simple as “Do a cart-wheel.” Although, that last one became equally inappropriate when the person that selected it was wearing a skirt.

It wasn’t long before people started getting scared to step up and the game master started drawing people out of the crowd to play. …And of course…guess who got singled out.  Yours truly. I was thrust into the center of a crowd of fifty or more, faced with a Jenga tower that teetered precariously at even the slightest  touch. I poked at each of the blocks, to the sound of cheers, gasps and cat calls around me, trying to find one that might just give.  Finally, and very carefully I might add, I pulled a block from the stack and handed it to the Game Master.  The task on the block–my loyal readers–will remain a secret to all but me and the people in the crowd that night.  😉 I have a reputation to uphold.  But, I was a sport, and did what it said, I’ll tell you that much.  Not to mention, I got out pretty easy compared to girl immediately after me who was the unfortunate soul to knock over the stack…and let me tell you what, if you think the tasks on the blocks are scary, well, just don’t be the one to knock over the stack, okay?

Lesson Five: If you’re shy AT ALL, steer clear of the giant Jenga at TRF.

The rest of the night was spent hopping from fire to fire, hanging out with people we ran into along the way, and in general just having a fun and relaxing night. Then, as the night wound down and our joints started getting stiff with the cold, we headed back to our camp to get some sleep.

We woke to an offering of chorizo tacos and some hot coffee from the quickie mart on site, and with that, we mustered the rest of our energy to pack up and get back on the road back to the real world. Resolution…complete.  And while I don’t think I could do that every weekend all season like some of the more serious Rennies, I can’t wait until my next Ren Faire experience.  I hear Sherwood Forest Faire is closer to Austin and coming up pretty soon!

The Kindness of Strangers [Resolutions 21 & 22]

Change is constant.  There is no doubt about that.  If you’re not changing, if you’re world isn’t changing, you aren’t truly alive.  There is value and comfort in stability, but we as humans are evolutionary creatures, we crave the ability to change and grow even if we don’t realize that’s so.

Recently, with all the change that’s going on in my life, I’ve likewise attracted people who are just as conscious of that craving as I am. Some people are chasing the same thing; some people are confident on their path and intentionally reach out and help those who are currently on the chase. Some people don’t even know the impact they have or will have on you, they just do what they do best and in the process–change you.

Dane, the now good friend from a few posts ago, is a little “all of the above.”  Since we first spent time together he has made it his personal mission to help me accomplish as many resolutions as humanly possible before the year’s end.  Though it is now unfeasible to complete my entire list (but that’s okay), every time we’ve met since our initial brunch outing he’s had something up his sleeve.  I have so many posts to catch up now just because I can’t write faster than he’s able to pull together resolutions with me.  (A big public thank you to you Dane!)

One of the more recent ones was:

Resolution #22: Write a letter to a stranger.

I don’t know why I didn’t think to google this to find a way to make it happen, but luckily Dane did and stumbled across Letters From Strangers.  A woman named Katie started it back in 2009 as a social experiment and community art project aiming to connect people all over the world in complete anonymity.  Basically, you compose a letter to a complete stranger. You are free to say whatever you want, include pictures, paintings, anything you would like to share. You may then mail the letter to Katie along with a self-addressed stamped envelope.  She places another stranger’s letter in your envelope to mail to you, and sends your letter in someone else’s.

You will never know who composed the letter you receive, where they are, their gender, their age, and they will never know you, though you’ve both likely opened a very intimate part of your soul to each other. It’s very poetic when you consider it.

I will refrain from posting the letter that I wrote, since if by some miracle its recipient stumbled across my blog it would no longer be anonymous.  I don’t want to take that chance, but I will share with you the letter that I received in return. I hoped, as I sent off my letter, that somehow its message would land in the exact hands that needed to receive it at the time.  Well, I don’t know if its recipient was as lucky as I was, but as I read over every hand-written word, it resonated with me and the exact place I am in life right now.  So, thank you Stranger. You’ll never have any idea, but in some way, big or small, you’ve reached me and changed me for the better.

It’s in pencil, so if you have difficulty reading it, here is the transcription of the front and back (not pictured):

Dear Stranger,

Do you ever want to quit?
Turn your life back and forget this place exists?
Run like Hell till even God couldn’t find you?
Stop and leave this whole mess behind you?

Don’t.

Don’t skip out on this life we call a rollercoaster. Because even rollercoasters are fun,
Right?

If you feel like giving up,
run.
But not from your problems.
Just run to feel the hot sidewalk burn a greeting to your feet.
Run towards someone you love.
Run to feel the burn in your muscles and remember you’re alive.
Run through the hard stuff and run toward happy things.
Run.

If you’re feeling blue,
remember all of the beautiful blue things in life.
The sky.
The mountains.
Eyes.
Flowers.
The ocean.

GO LOOK AT THEM.

When you feel like you’re going to break down, remember that even the most efficient cars need a tune up.

But remember to use your support systems.  Because cares need a jack to be lifted up and maybe you do too.
Cars don’t fix themselves.
Use your favorite mechanic.

So if everything is crashing down around your ears, look for some music in the cacophony.
Build a structure out of the debris.

And if you need a little boost,
don’t
forget
to
remember
me.

Lots of love from your new favorite stranger.

Resolution #21: Learn a new skill.

Another Dane resolution brought me into the capable hands of a handful of other kind strangers who would teach me the new skill of hula hooping.

We started by getting together one afternoon and making our very own hula hoops.  I wish I had pictures, but sadly I do not, so the above is an example of hoops that look a little like ours.  Dane went out and purchased pipe, connectors and electrical tape and had everything ready and laid out when I came over one day to hang out. We measured out our hoops, making them large for easy practice hoops, and connected the ends to make rings. Then, we tore into the electrical tape and I carefully wrapped my hoop in black, orange and yellow (now fondly named “The Jack o’ Lantern”) and Dane wrapped his in his signature blue, white and yellow.

We spent a few minutes in the backyard practicing basic hooping. Just getting it to stay up and moving around my waist proved a bit more difficult than I remembered as a kid. After a quarter-hour of wondering if my hips were dysfunctional, I finally got the movement down and found myself able to at least keep the hoop from falling around my ankles. Progress!  But that was just about as far as our basic knowledge could take us.

I allowed the hoops to sit in my room unused for a few days, but as we packed our things for Orfunner I tossed the hoops in the car with our camping gear.  What better place to get some practice in than a giant open campground?  Not to mention an event that was likely to have more than a few master hoopers in attendance.

After setting up camp, Jane and I went into a clearing near our camp and began to practice what few little tricks we knew. A few minutes later a stranger emerged from the trees and watched us quietly for a few minutes before approaching us. She asked for nothing, but explained that she’d been hooping for over ten years and was happy to offer us some tips if we wanted them. She hung out with us for about half an hour, just watching, demonstrating and critiquing.

By the time she left, I could hoop both clockwise and counter-clockwise as well as do the part of ‘the corkscrew.’ I could spin the hoop from my waist to over my head, but just couldn’t quite master getting it back down around my waist.  It didn’t matter; in the moment I felt WILDLY accomplished.

The hoops went back into dormancy after Orfunner, just for lack of time and space to practice, but this past Thursday I brought them out again for Hooping Happy Hour at The Vortex here in Austin.  Another stranger and master hooper, Cedar Stevens, shows up there every Thursday to hoop and teach hooping to anyone who shows up wanting to learn. (Seriously, if you live in Austin, you should come out and try it out.  It’s SO much fun!)

When she arrived, hoops in hand, she greeted us with sprite like enthusiasm.  She already knew Dane and greeted him by name, then introduced herself to me.  We picked up right where I had left off, attempting to complete a successful corkscrew. She, and another beautiful stranger Sharon watched me closely and both offered their suggestions.  Again, progress!  After an hour or so of hooping and chatting with these lovely ladies and Dane I could do the corkscrew (nearly) every time I attempted it and again felt privileged and enlightened to have made the acquaintance of a group of strangers so ready and willing to offer their expertise for nothing in return but the satisfaction of knowing that they helped out a newbie.

It all started with a stranger, turned acquaintance, turned very close friend Dane.  And, it opened me up to a whole world of strangers who, unbeknownst to them, have changed my life.  Not only by writing me a letter, or teaching me how to hoop, but by showing me that there is still kindness in strangers.  They proved that not everyone puts a price on their expertise. Not everyone saves their best and kindest words only for people they know. Not everyone approaches someone unknown with cynicism or doubt. They embrace them with trust and love.

And you know what?  It inspires me to do the same.

[Resolution] #26 Go Camping: Orfunner 2012

You know those rare events in life where you walk out of them knowing, feeling, that your life has changed?  It may not be from anything you can pinpoint or specify, but the feeling of being a changed person is unmistakable.

I didn’t know what a Burn was until just a few weeks ago when I was introduced to the idea of Orfunner, a Burning Man event that takes place here, close to Austin, in Dripping Springs.  The idea of any burn event was intimidating to me. Hoards of radically self-expressive people, artists…and a LOT of drugs.  And while I covet the idea of the first two (not particularly interested in lots of drugs, but hey, to each his own) I never considered myself to be quite at the level that would allow me to run with burners.

But, after talking to a few friends who had participated before, and hearing about the culture of acceptance, the gifting economy and the spirit of mutual respect and love, it started to sound more and more like something that was, in fact, right up my alley.

We gathered a group of people, our camping gear, and headed out to Dripping Springs.  I arrived in a group of three: Dru, his friend Jane and I, but there were other mutual friends there that we already knew.  Even so, it didn’t matter who we knew already, because as soon as we drove through the gates of the campgrounds we had come ‘home’ to a new family.

We followed a caravan of other cars to the entrance where we could see people leaning into car windows and talking jovially.  As we finally got to the front of the line, a little sprite of a girl wearing fishnet from head to toe and wearing a fox tail poked her head into my window and demanded we get out of the car.  I got a little nervous, like for sure we’d already done something wrong, but before I even got both feet on the ground she had me in her embrace and exclaimed “Welcome home!”

After a quick rundown of the campground rules we were admitted and found a place to put the car until we could locate our other friend.  All around us were colorful lights, loud music, talking, singing, and laughing. We’d entered an entirely different world, and consequently had no idea where to even begin, where to set up camp or how to find a familiar face.

We stood close to the car, alternating between helping a lost friend find her way to the grounds and discussing what the heck we were supposed to do. I think our confusion and frustration may have been apparent to a fellow camper nearby, because a man wearing a sarong emerged from a clearing near our car asking if we needed a place to set up camp.

He led us into the clearing where he, his friends, and another group had already set up tents.  It was perfect, shaded, and little bit out of the way of all the goings on in the center of the campground.  “You’re welcome to join us,” he said. “There’s more than enough room.” We graciously took him up on his offer and began work on our camp.  It was immediately clear, however, that we were newbies at this.  Among a number of elaborate camps with electricity, banners, artwork and more we set up everything we had which equated to a couple of small tents and a cooler filled with snacks.

“Is this your first burn?” people would ask.  I never knew exactly what about us tipped them off: the lack of preparation, the awestruck looks on our faces, or possibly the extremely modest clothing among a sea of costumes and nudity.  It didn’t matter, as soon as we uttered the words “Yep, first time,” we were suddenly some sort of special guest wherever we were.  Without hesitation people offered us whatever they had: food and drink, cigarettes and drugs, or just a comfortable seat and good company. The gift economy at work.  It didn’t even matter to them that we’d showed up wildly unprepared and with nothing to offer in return…in their eyes, if we were treated right at our first burn then as we became more experienced we were sure to return the favor at our future burns, make others feel just as welcome and facilitate the loving and giving environment that everyone there cherishes so much.

After settling in and acquainting ourselves with our camp and the people in it, Jane and I set out to explore while Dru stayed behind to work on a leather loin cloth he planned to wear for around for the weekend (remember what I said about costumes and nudity? Yep, loin cloth…perfectly acceptable to wear in public here.).  While exploring we managed to find a campsite with a large sign advertising free pancakes in the morning, a camp that had set up an entire night club complete with DJ and dance floor, and another that was in the midst of setting up a community kitchen with food, appliances, and sinks for doing dishes. Others looked like they were completing equally impressive setups but as it was already dark and the night was still young the large field (called the playa) where the largest camps were setting up was still in various forms of construction.

We finally crossed paths with a group of friends and spent the remainder of the evening exploring, making friends with strangers and just enjoying seeing all that each camp had to offer, until finally the sky started lightening around us and we returned to camp to live out the sunrise with the camp next door and crawled into our tent to sleep away the early morning.

For the first time in years, it wasn’t an alarm clock but sun rays and the warmth of early afternoon that woke me.  Jane was already gone and Dru was still asleep, so I crawled out from the quickly warming tent to seek out the site of free pancakes that we’d come across the night before.  Everyone else I knew was already there with plates of half eaten pancakes.  I hopped into line and received my own pancakes from the camp owner, still baffled by the idea that an ordinary guy, asking for nothing in return, was not only willing but happy to stand over a grill in the hot sun to turn out pancakes to as many strangers as he could feed.  Also…they were DELICIOUS.

The weekend proceeded as it had started, filled with friendly strangers and a never-ending string of new sights, sounds and experiences.  We became extremely close with the camp next door which included Adam, the man in the sarong who’d originally led us into their camp area, Mandy, Lauren, and in a brilliant display of the ‘small world’ concept, one of our real-world friends Ryan.  They’d set up a hammock under a large shade and rigged a mister over it so it was the ideal place to spend the afternoon.  We’d step away every so often to see how the camps on the playa were evolving, or going to cool off in or by the pool, but mostly waited out the day in the cover of shade and helped them to prepare for a curry dinner that they’d planned to offer to any hungry passers-by in the evening.

The night is when the campground comes alive.  As the sun goes down, the camp lights up with lanterns, lights and bulk loads of glow sticks which are handed out freely to anyone who can put them to good use.  At one point I wore a belt of linked glow bracelets and wore even more on my arms…a colorful human lantern.

By the evening everyone was fully set-up and everything was in full swing.  We walked endlessly, dipping in and out of completed camps.  A hookah lounge.  A community trampoline, which by the way was not meant to hold 8 people at once, but managed to without death or injury (though I ended up falling off it backwards the next day).  A camp that consisted of seating and one very large pole for pole dancing. A volleyball court that had become a stage for fire performers. The night club camp from the night before and a camp next door that was offering a full bar worth of alcohol for anyone who arrived with their own cup.  All free, and all, as much as I hate to admit, enhanced by us and everyone else being in various forms of inebriation.  It’s just a part of the entire experience, the culture, part of facilitating the mind-opening whole of the event.

As time went on I found that it was all contagious.  I grew more and more comfortable in my own skin, literally and figuratively, and was able to express the creativity and eccentricity that I’d quelled in public for so long in order to ‘fit in’ or ‘be normal.’  The body that I’m usually so uncomfortable with all of its flaws was suddenly something beautiful, not only to me but to everyone around me.  I adorned my head with a mohawk of white feathers, wore bold clothing and bore more skin than I’ve ever been comfortable with in public.  Dru walked beside me in a leather loin cloth and a headdress of ram horns and synthetic deadlocks.  And rather than the looks of scorn, confusion or fear that we may have received anywhere else, we were revered, complimented and praised.  At one point I was pulled aside by a complete stranger who had seen me and could not allow me to walk away without telling me how beautiful I was, but not just physically.  She explained that she was in awe of my inner beauty, the beauty of my soul, something that you don’t hear very often these days, because not many people look inside people anymore. The world is about facades and appearances, and people have forgotten the true brilliance of inner beauty, but not here.

The three days past far too quickly.  As things started winding down I had begun to feel like I’d finally started to get the hang of things and was already getting excited preparing for the next event.  After discovering that Mandy, Lauren, Jane and myself were all Aquarians we begun preliminary plans to gather again in January for “Freezer Burn” and create an Aquarian themed camp and all talked wistfully about camping together at Flipside, one of the larger burn events, down the road.

We woke early the next day to share breakfast together and with the two camps around us, a feast of all the food that we had leftover and didn’t feel like carrying home. We packed our things, helped to clean around our site, abiding by the ‘leave no trace’ rule, and finally said our goodbyes.

I left the camp and headed back to the real world completely exhausted, and yet more completely alive than I’d ever felt before.  My eyes had been permanently opening to a facets of life that I’d lost hope in or never known about at all.  The spirit of trust, respect, love and charity were still alive somewhere. A place where creativity and eccentricity are appreciated and not feared. And people who still bother to look past your exterior and see the soul underneath.  And, from what I hear, Orfunner doesn’t even touch how incredible the bigger burn events are, as far as art, creativity and scale.  I’m counting the days until I get to go ‘home’ again.