The person I project is usually not me. I’m a carefully mixed cocktail of perfectly transparent efforts. I am constantly molding myself into a mash up of the personality traits I’d like to have and the opposites of those that I know I certainly don’t want. Take my past obsession with hippies, for example. I am not a hippie. I’ve had four keratin hair treatments, even though I only claim to have had one, in an effort to morph my Italian Jewess curls into the easy “I just impulsively jumped into this lake and hopped out with an effortless coif” look that tumbles down the backs of sun kissed earth girls named Sasha.
I chameleon crawled into my hippie loving phase honestly at least. I used to bathe naked at 11 years old in the foot deep wading pool in my backyard. Plucking lavender from the surrounding plots and basking in the sun with my Australian world-traveling stepmother. I’d talk to imaginary garden elves and carefully place the herb buds on my flat chest and the crevice between my legs, giggling and thinking how absurd it was that I felt self conscious every day at school when a world of such playfulness and abandon could exist with her.
Vivid memories of my stepmother's New York City apartment, rife with aboriginal masks and ceremonial penis holders from New Guinea, dapple my childhood. My upbringing, while fraught on some levels, was infused with an awareness and curiosity of the natural world and it’s colorful cultures. I was a closet hippie, some might say.
So it wasn’t all that odd when years later in my early thirties, I decided to accompany my stepmom to her friend's Burning Man fundraiser party, complete with a drum circle and spirit animal journey. We ate oven roasted brussels sprouts with our hands and poked potatoes with mismatched chopsticks pulled out of a jar holding paintbrushes. Hey, why not?
Once there I entertained myself by ogling a shirtless Jesus-like creature named Apollo (nee Jesse) from across the room and eventually reveled in flirtatious conversation with him. The culmination of this flirtation resulted in a big bare chested hug and subjecting my clothing to the relentless sticky glitter that covered his naked body for the occasion (or for no apparent reason). I found out later that the evening's piece de resistance was Apollo posing for a naked modeling session, and I felt slightly possessive that he would dare to share his body with so many artists after we obviously had made a tacit promise, sealed with glitter and superficial conversation about consciousness to sleep with each other at some point. I learned later that you cannot "own" people, but my feeble unenlightened mind couldn't process this at the moment and I considered him to be mine. I also feigned an epiphany that night when I pretended that I had discovered my spirit animal, the Macaw, during a guided meditation into the depths of an imaginary jungle. Thankfully, this was convincing enough to connect with the crowd.
I received an invitation from Apollo later that summer to attend yet another fundraiser. It seemed these hippies were lacking for funds, strange given the fact that they all had newly minted iPhones.
“It’s a campsite! With a fire pit and homecooked meals and it’s all for a good cause,” I cooed to my two coworkers, a couple of outdoorsey types who would hike and bike long distance regularly and saw this as a great opportunity to take a ride upstate. “You see, they’re raising money to buy 200 acres of lush Catskills forest land and this incredible barn on the land that is about to be foreclosed. They're going to turn it into a community center for trade and services and eventually a global movement to shirk capitalist ideals and get back to basics. It’s basically a whole foods in the woods, let’s go!”
My first mistake was presuming that just because a place had been given a name, that it was official. This fantasy camping land was called "Avalon", giving me the impression that it was a legitimate operation. I came to learn later that names were everything in this circle, they had the power to work magic. These magical powers were evidenced by the fact that I probably never would have ventured to Avalon if I wasn’t under the false impression that it was a titled and functioning 501c3 non-profit organization. I imagined clearly marked campgrounds, picnic tables, firepits and bathrooms of some kind. How naive.
I picked up another “camper” on the drive upstate for the weekend. She was a friend of a friend and more of a glamping kind of girl. She sported several backpacks and a floppy hat fit for a cruise in the Caribbean. We stopped at Wal-mart where we purchased enough boxed wine and packaged cheeses for a small army and grabbed some inflatable sleeping mats, just in case the campsites were a little rocky. As we drove up, I regaled her with stories of Apollo the shirtless glitter creature and thanked her for being a wingwoman on what was clearly a mission for dick masked in altruism and a genuine concern for saving a barn.
“He’s like a hot Jesus. Long brown hair, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t own any shirts. Big eyes, and a lot of abs “ I said. “So even though I don’t really know you, thank you for coming up for the weekend and hanging out while I try to weasel my way into this guy’s hammock.” She was game. As we pulled up, two girls were manning a table covered with stones, crystals, sage and a sign in sheet. Instead of any sign of a well kept campground, we stared up a rocky incline and a path that wound further up a steep hill into dark woods. Were we supposed to get all of these boxes of wine up that hill? Should my friend maybe have worn something other than white linen and flip flops? I could already see she was having a minor panic attack.
I said hello to a gorgeous black haired, moon faced girl named Charmaine who had arranged a majority of the logistics. Being an event planner myself, I respected her calm manner and knowledgeable insight into what was being offered over the course of the weekend. There was a women’s full moon campfire meditation, yoga, and the option of buying into communal vegan meals.
“Oh, I think we will save the $30 and just eat all this brie that we brought.” Charmaine looked at me sweetly but confused. I was starting to gather that this was a place of cleansing and purifying the body and spirit, not of eating artery clogging cheeses. It was also a place of donating...to an ambiguous cause. We were immediately frowned upon in a zen-like manner for not contributing beyond the entrance fee by buying the meal package. A year later, Charmaine would ask me at a meditation circle, “Do you feel like your life’s purpose is being fulfilled?” I would answer, “Probably not, but I’m cool with that I think. I’m used to being anxious and unfulfilled.” I laughed in and awkward way that exposed me for being spiritually lazy, and I could see that she pitied me for using humor to bury my fears. She gave me another quizzical look and proceeded to douse each of my inner wrists with her handmade essential oils. The rubbing together of my wrists symbolized a merging of male and female energies and would balance me right out. For a moment, I had hope that it would be so easy. Maybe I’d actually sleep that night.
My friend and I decided to linger by the car and wait for our three other friends to arrive on their bicycles, an approximately 60 mile trip from the city. We were feeling out of place and I squashed that sinking feeling in my stomach that told me it was a bit premature to drive two hours upstate for a potential hammock ride with a dude named Apollo who I was pretty sure only made a living by posing nude at Burning Man fundraisers.
We snacked on chips and I was proud that my friends’ bad ass bicycle journey would give me instant credibility with the nature children who surely were looking at me as though I had just thrown off my corporate power suit to pretend to camp. I don't own any power suits, but next to their patchwork quilted halter tops, I looked like Ann Coulter. If these girls could just get here already and help us solve the issue of how to respect the consciousness raising efforts while also getting wine drunk in the woods and shit talking our coworkers, things would be fine.
To be continued...