Dead Turtles, Renaissance Faires, and Stripper Memoirs: a meditation on mental freedom

I’ve had a strange couple of weeks. Or informative, depending on how you look at it. The weeks leading up to my 20th birthday invited a lot of depressed navel-gazing about what I’ve done with my life, where it’s going, and my continuing discomfort with who I am and how I present to the world. I’ve always seen myself as too big, loud, awkward, inauthentic, ignorant, or just generally unworthy to let my authentic self hang out for everyone to see. This gets pretty painful in social situations and makes it hard for me to find like minded people. I’m always mentally dissecting myself and editing my personality. I wear baggy clothing in public to avoid attracting stares, and I always hesitate to start a new activity because I’m so harsh on myself when I’m in the learning phase; I even hesitate to tell people about my hobbies until I get good enough to “show off.” Other people notice. Everyone from my friends to former lovers have commented on my lack of self-confidence; in fact, I scared off the love of my life by relying so much on him to prop up my self worth, that I was more of a barnacle infestation than a girlfriend.

The week before my birthday, I picked up a copy of Bare, the memoir of a woman who worked as a stripper in Seattle. She eventually ended up leaving the business for a career in journalism, but before she did, she wrote extensively about the lives, views, and relationships of her co-workers. Contrary to what I expected, a lot of them felt no sense of embarrassment or shame about getting naked in front of paying strangers-in fact, some even said it gave them a sense of power.Many of them used the money they made stripping (lots of it!) to fund creative and educational endeavours and travel. One said that she liked working as a stripper because she was surrounded by other educated women! (This may be biased, after all they were in Seattle…) what a contrast between my philosophy (shame, hide behind a baggy sweatshirt) and theirs.

 

I was still thinking about this when my friend pulled the tiny baggie of dried mushrooms out of the trunk of his car a week later. “I ate a bunch yesterday, and gardened all day!” he said. He had been explaining to me that he ate the magic mushrooms once a year to mentally reset himself. He became too tense, too tangled up in the world’s expectations. That sounded like an exact description of what ailed me. I, too, needed a factory reset, I thought, as I chewed and swallowed the leathery little caps.

 

Within half an hour, the world swam and buzzed around my head, and the forest seemed suffused with an inner light of its own. The trees swayed in the wind, and I swayed with them; I only had to look at the bark on a tree or the veins on a leaf, and I became transfixed with the layers of infinite detail each contained, each layer laid out in such amazingly precise and complex pattern. The shades and colors of everything seemed not just brighter and more contrasting, but somehow alive-I could see every shade from cool lime green to rosy pink to hot orange in the dead wood of a fallen tree. My friend and I wandered through the woods and talked about things as they came up. I’m going to give you my favorite pearl of wisdom from my magic mushroom munching friend:

“The Earth is just a giant stomach that’s digesting everything on it. and once you realize this, you will worry a lot less about some things.”

This is true. Everything is born so it can die. The natural order of the universe is chaos. And why is this? So it can feed the cycle of life. And why is THIS? We don’t know. Some people believe that we create the universe in our minds. I believe the opposite: the universe creates us in its mind. We are the dream of the earth. And we are each a fleeting and tiny part of this dream. But do you know what that means? That you are no more or less important in the dream of the universe than the smallest dust speck, or a whole galaxy.

A week later, I found the turtle on the train tracks. Well, it was just dry bones and a shell at that point, but it looked to have been cut down in the prime of its life. And it wasn’t just dead, it was ripped apart and scattered along the train track; I found its bones spread out over a 15-foot section of track. As I squatted down by the tracks to pick up the bones, I thought about how the turtle had been smashed by a train as if it was nothing. And I realized, yes, I am like the turtle in a way, so are we all: we will all be crushed under the wheel of time as if we are nothing. I am just as vulnerable to age, heat, cold, sickness, injury, natural disaster, misfortune, as any one else, or as the turtle is to the train. I too can die.

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(Skull, claws, vertebrae, and shell-an architectural masterpiece)

But I didn’t want to be fixated on death. So I went to a Renaissance fair. A Renaissance fair is a crazy celebration of color, sound, smell, taste, texture…almost like my mushroom munching misadventure the week before. There were vendors of clothing, jewelry, toys, dishes, armor, feathers, flowers, and ornaments of every description; food, dancing, and music, and acrobats, and pirates, and snake-handlers. And then there were the guests’ costumes. For me, this was the best part of the faire. I went in costume and felt incredibly nervous-I thought I would be the only one there dressed up, or that my outfit wasn’t good enough. How wrong I was! More than half the guests were in costume, with outfits ranging from authentic custom-made armor to rainbow fairy wings to Gothic getups to pirates to a weaver in a dress made of genuine homespun cloth. And no one seemed self-conscious. People of all ages, body types, etc. were dressing up, getting in character (including attempts at old-timey speak, with varying degrees of authenticity!) and having lots of fun. I actually got stopped by several people who liked my outfit so much thy wanted to get pictures. So much for self-consciousness!

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(The woman next to me in the blue dress was a vendor-her dress was amazing!)

 

Anyway, the (metaphorical) fire burns low and my tale must draw to a close. But heed me well and listen to these lessons that I myself am still trying to learn, imparted by these events: Don’t be ashamed of the way you look. Be realistic, but don’t be ashamed. Don’t take yourself so seriously, don’t take others so seriously either! You, and they, are fleeting dreams of the universe, ultimately destined to meet the fate of the turtle on the train tracks, as is everything you hold on to so fiercely. Don’t be sad though, just appreciate the now for what it is. The earth is a stomach that’s digesting everything on it, but before you are digested, the dream of the earth wants you to be happy, and laugh, and wear bright colors, and get naked and roll around in the dirt, and eat ripe plums until you’re sick, and whatever else you need to do. Don’t worry-the universe is not taking score.

 

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