Friday, January 26, 2007

Collective Joy

Recent posts on this blog have lamented my extended sojourns in Tallahassee for work at the Capitol. One very good thing about working in Tallahassee is 88.9FM, the local NPR station. I love, love, LOVE 88.9FM. Unlike 90.1FM in Fort Myers, 88.9FM broadcasts NPR programming 24/7. They don't stop talking at 9:00am and 7:00pm in favor of playing classical music. Oh, no. Their broadcast lineup includes all of my old favorites (Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation, Car Talk and Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me) and entices with "new" shows I didn't even know existed (Studio 360, The Splendid Table).

With all due respect to Terry Gross, my new favorite is the weekly broadcast from The Commonwealth Club of California. In the last three weeks, I've managed to coincide my departure from the Capitol with the broadcast of this wonderful intellectual conversation. Yesterday, I found myself particularly rapt listening to Barbara Erenreich discuss her newest book, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy.

Publisher's Weekly offers this review: "It is a truism that everyone seeks happiness, but public manifestations of it have not always been free of recrimination. Colonial regimes have defined spectacles as an inherently 'primitive' act and elders harrumph at youthful exultation. Social critic and bestselling author Ehrenreich teases out the many incarnations of sanctioned public revelry, starting with the protofeminist oreibasia, or Dionysian winter dance, in antiquity, and from there covering trance, ancient mystery cults and carnival, right up to the rock and roll and sports-related mass celebrations of our own day. 'Why is so little left' of such rituals, she asks, bemoaning the 'loss of ecstatic pleasure.' Ehrenreich necessarily delineates the repressive reactions to such ecstasy by the forces of so-called 'civilization,' reasonably positing that rituals of joy are nearly as innate as the quest for food and shelter. Complicating Ehrenreich's schema is her own politicized judgment, dismissing what she sees as the debased celebrations of sporting events while writing approvingly of the 1960s 'happenings' of her own youth and the inevitable street theater that accompanies any modern mass protest, yet all but ignoring the Burning Man festival in Nevada..."

And there it was: the intersection of the "real" world and the "default" world.

I have been a Burner since 2003 and I would bet my last dollar that Barbara Ehrenreich has never set foot on the playa. To be fair, I haven't read her book; but I would bet she "ignores" Burning Man based on second-hand anecdotes and judgments of others. A popular phrase in our home is, "when you don't know, you're making stuff up." That is a common trap for non-Burners who talk about Burning Man. They don't know, so they make stuff up.

Burning Man is an experiment in temporary community where radical self-reliance is imperative and radical self-expression is revered and expected. Isn't that the point? Participation? Isn't that what drives rituals of joy?

During her conversation with The Commonwealth Club of California, Ms. Ehrenreich related a story about the origin of her own inhibitions around dancing. She seemed to say she became paralyzed by a fear of "not doing it right." She followed that account with a story about her young granddaugthers who, in marked contrast, "know how to do it." They dance and sing and giggle and act silly. They participate. In a way that brings them joy. The dedication of her book, "To Anna and Clara, who know how to do it" underscored for me the importance of participation and made me wonder: if her point is to bemoan the decline of rituals of joy, and to suggest that we as a culture rebel against attempts to suppress this innate quest, then why would she seem to suggest that only certain modern rituals of joy are worthy of our attention? That suggestion is not only contrary to her point about participation, it seems to be her way of saying, "you're not doing it right."

If the point is to pursue joy collectively, then I invite Barbara Ehrenreich to step outside the "default" world of "shoulds" and "ought to's" and join us in the "real" world. I know the 38,000 citizens of Black Rock City would welcome her home with a bear hug. And she may even learn to dance again.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Happy Birthday, My Love!

I miss you, 143, xxoo

Birthdays and Milestones

Today is Phil's birthday. He is 41; though, to look at him, you would swear he is not a day older than 31 (and I'm not just saying that because I think he's the hottest man on the planet...)

Last year, we celebrated the big 4-OH! with a swanky party in Tallahassee. It was the first time Phil had been feted on his birthday and, since it WAS a milestone birthday, I went all out: yummy catering from M.A.D. About Food; boozy libations; sweet tunes from our favorite local band, The Recliners; and legions of friends and family surrounding the birthday boy with love and good wishes on his special day.

Today, on the day of the big 4-ONE! I am in Tallahassee and Phil is at home in Fort Myers. The key clause in that sentence is "Phil is at home in Fort Myers." Yes, HOME. In FORT MYERS. The irony of that reality struck me as I was driving north on the 75, heading to Tallahassee for yet another week of Special Session/committee meetings.

In the year since the "40 Is The New 30" milestone birthday party, more than just ages have changed. It was just before his birthday last year, during a trip to Key West, that Phil announced to me his intention to move to Fort Myers (from Tallahassee, natch), and that he had already begun house-hunting in earnest. He was so earnest, in fact, that he almost bought a house two days before we left for Key West. Whoa! Just a month after returning from that trip, we found "our" house and set about planning for cohabitation (the SAT word for "living in sin.")

Life is good; but, after 6 years and 6 months of living long-distance, some habits die hard. To wit, I'm still EXTREMELY protective of our time together (it's a vestige of that long, long time when we could only spend weekends together.) During the past four weeks, I've been home for exactly 6 days. That ratio of time takes me right back to our time in long-distance exile. Being apart for extended periods is never fun, but it is especially not fun when you have to be away from the one you love on their birthday. Thus my abject sadness at having to leave, yet again, and miss celebrating with Phil on the actual day of his birthday
. The more things change, the more they stay the same. A cliche, sure, but so very, very true in this case.

Still, I know how very lucky I am. When I return to Fort Myers Thursday night, I'm going back to a beautiful home, and the love of my life will be there, and all will be right in the world (at least until I have to leave again...).

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Birthday Shout Out

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ED! We all love you and miss you.


I have pink-eye. I shouldn't be surprised. I'm in Tallahassee this week for work and I always contract this particular plague at least once. It's an occupational hazard of working at the Capitol, a veritable vortex of disease. On any given day, thousands of people roam the halls spreading all manner of germy ickiness via handshakes and hugs, with nary a 3 oz. bottle of Purell in sight.

This year it happened early: this is just the first of six committee weeks in January and February, in advance of the Legislative Session that begins on March 6th and runs for nine weeks. Fifteen weeks of work in a petri dish. Oh joy!

Pink-eye is not fun, it's not at all pretty (especially when disease travels from the right eye and also infects the left eye...when that happens, I look like Kate Moss at the height of heroin chic) and it's expensive. In addition to the cost of the medicinal eyedrops, ridding oneself of the pesky pink-eye plague requires tossing every bit of makeup and every makeup tool that has been in contact with the virus. Lovely (read: pricey) Chanel products are not exempt. Sigh.

Fortunately, as a state worker, I have excellent healthcare benefits. Unfortunately, I haven't figured a way to force the Chanel counter to accept my insurance.