Thursday, September 18, 2008

Accepting Destiny at Disneyland

I celebrated my 29th birthday, both the day of and the day after, at the Happiest Place on Earth with people I love. Love, represented here as the mirror in which you can see yourself, is one of the pieces of my destiny that ran through the days with strikingly loud colors. I wore heart-shaped sunglasses and a backpack with LOVE printed across it in bold letters. "So there's no ambiguity to your mission here," Anthony said. Love leads the way, and Love is what I'll leave in my wake. As I go even deeper into this transition time--not yet teaching, not yet moved in, not yet settled into routine-- I'm finding the importance of my fundamental missions gets distilled. Bono was right: only bring all that you can't leave behind. Turns out I don't need a home, a clean room, or a short-term plan, because I've got some other desires that should last me until I die.

I need Love. I need Art. I need Overcoming. When Sam Phillips sang "I Need Love" she tried to help us understand what it wasn't: "I need love/not some sentimental prison." I'm not talking about needing comfort, except the comfort of trusting that I will be told the truth. I'm not talking about ego-stroking or codependence or enabling or even basic consideration. I'm talking about the kind of love that actually breaks you open, feels dangerous because of its power, changes the way you do things. I'm talking about love that matters. I think I've spent most of my life cultivating this kind of love, even without being fully able to sustain it. I've always been drawn to people who believe in it--not just romantic partners, but other creators of community, friends who need no privacy, people who prioritize Love over conflict-avoidance or control. I've been drawn to it, I've been trying at it, but without a clear philosophy of what it was, I was engaged in the slow process of experiential learning. That's changing. (Read "A Little Book on Love" by Jacob Needleman.)

Last night at the Hollywood Bowl I listened to Spiritualized sing "All I want in life's a little love to take the pain away/feeling strong today/giant step each day" and I realized that it's a sad fallacy of our pop-psychology culture that we've started to confuse Love with all kinds of other, smaller, less noble processes that people rely on for well-being. Love CAN take pain away--it's the only thing that truly can. Self-love, partner love, community love. They aren't crutches. They aren't stop-gap. They aren't inferior to Prozac or quitting your job, they are the foundation from which all courageous life-changes are made. It's not wrong to want love--it's wrong to pretend you want love when what you really want is someone around to know a lot of your details. We can live with the knowledge of our mortality if we really have love. We can transcend and float in space, we can dig and burrow and taste the dirt.

I need Art. I can't think of anything better for me to do or experience on a daily basis. It's an emotional imperative, a moral choice, and also a practical discipline. My commitment to writing in particular is now so embedded in my self and life that I don't even think about "how" I'll do it. I quit asking questions about when there would be enough time, where I'd have space, to whom I'd show my work. Writing and all its ancillary acts like taking notes, exploring, traveling, listening, and so on have become the rhythm and structure of my days and nights. The state of sensory overwhelm, which happens in the uniquely precise world of detail that is Disney, is nourishment.

I need Overcoming. This is the Nietzchean way of fear-conquering. This is the disentanglement of terror and resentment. I need to no longer resent or hate that which causes me terror. At Disneyland, I rushed into Introductory Overcoming on Splash Mountain, which is a ride I've dreaded and still tried every few years since it was built. Every time I make that drop, I feel I might die. I cry and shake and hate it. Not this time. This time Anthony and I marveled at how beautiful the ride was--the animatronic characters I'd loved as a child from "America Sings " were all brightly lit and dancing. We noticed the mother rabbit's fear of The Laughing Place (metaphor for what? drugs? vagabondism? premarital sex? Rock n' roll?) just before our log plummeted eight stories into the briar patch. I leaned forward, screaming like a warrior, and came out delirious: laughing, crying, high on adrenaline, soaked head to toe. No less fear than before, just less attachment to it, and no trauma afterward. "Once you've decided what you think is best to do, the terror is irrelevant," I told Susan on the phone.

The next day Louis took me to the Hollywood Tower of Terror, and I passed a lesson in Advanced Overcoming by allowing a Twilight Zone elevator car to rise and fall and rise and fall--faster than gravity would demand, it seemed--with my body inside. With Splash Mountain, I knew my foe. The Tower was an unknown entity, far more overwhelming in its magnitude. I came out unable to speak at first. I had to slump against the wall and cry even harder, laugh, and shake so violently I couldn't lift my bag for a few seconds. "Did you see that weird out-of-control breathing thing I was doing?" I asked Louis a few minutes later. "You mean the hyperventilating?" he said. Oh. So that's what that was. It had never happened to me before.

For nearly a half-hour my heart was pounding. I wanted to punch and kick things. I was very, very proud. I apologize here, publicly, to all the people in my life who've tried to get me to go on roller coasters over the years. I still cry at the end, you see. But I don't hate that feeling, I don't hate the world for having stimuli in it that causes that feeling, I don't hate the people who want me to get over that feeling, and I know I need to keep going towards it when it appears. This was the lesson of the zipline as well. It's not only physical danger that drives me to terror, but physical danger is reliable in that way, and therefore a good teacher for me. I don't like thinking any doors are closed to me because of my own resistance. My life is now totally encompassed by Project Limitless.

Maybe another thing I need is Incorporation, so I don't have to keep taking the same lessons over and over again...


  1. Next step...Slayer concert!

  2. I think you should skydive! It's not what you think it will be'll never have 45 seconds as free and transcendent.