Vote Charlie!

Darkest before dawn

Posted at age 28.
Edited .

I know now I cannot sleep. I probably knew before, but I tried getting lost in music, vaguely hoping my consciousness be released. Trying to get lost is something I am not well equipped to handle, at any rate. I know exactly where I am. The vibrations in my earphones, captivating as they seem, somehow serve only to bring my thoughts into sharper focus. I can no longer contain my mind; the thoughts burst out, and I must write, lest I lose all hope of honoring them, of honoring myself. I am being haunted by the breaking heart of the woman who used to own my house, and I think that is why I must depart.

[COLLAPSE=Privacy modifications]

Upon reflection and due to others’ wishes, I have modified some names in this account. I originally posted this to a publicly accessible page so I could share the link with those involved and those close to me, but the page was not linked to from any other pages and thus “private”. I hope the modifications alleviate concerns should I make this post public. To be clear, I mean not to disparage anyone, but rather to describe the real human struggle in which we all partake and the effects of our actions on those around us. I know each has his own story; I wish I could know them. Ultimately, I hope we can all realize happiness one day.


In another track I will tell of my fourth year as a burner, but for now what is important is I have returned. Wednesday I drove my good friend Erik to the airport, concluding his third year. I drove my ex boyfriend’s vehicle, which now shares its owner’s claim of having been to Black Rock City, though separately in time. I drove to the hardware store. I was excited to use the time to walk each aisle and study my options for building a better camp. I know my finances seem not to warrant any further expenditures, but there is no harm in knowledge. And there is certainly merit in building something fulfilling.

When I came upon an aisle with shop vacuums, I remembered my friend and roommate and landlord used to own one, or possibly still does, but it was taken away by our house painters upon their exit after weeks of work. Along with the vacuum went all my hammers, which I have now spent more than $200 replacing. But my loss was not then on my mind, and indeed none of this at all was on my mind before I happened upon those damned vacuums.

I texted him, asking if he would like me to pick up a shop vac for him. He tuned in, but what developed was far from what I hoped.

I was already salty with him, unsure of my place in the household, or whether I have a place at all. I returned from my trip to find a fifth fancy car in the garage, in addition to the now only three motorcycles. The vehicles possibly intentionally crept backward during my absence such that I could not put back my table and bins where I had been storing them.

I should not even get into my feelings on the garage storage, but it frustrates me despite my efforts to relax about it. I first came to this home to find in the garage massive piles of car parts, supplies, suitcases, and mostly just boxes and garbage. I immediately saw potential in straightening the mess, and not just so I could selfishly suggest I might store some things there. To me a garage is the epitome of a storage space. If I could organize it such that my own things could be squirreled away and he could also realize so much extra space, it seemed it could be great for everybody. And it was. But the need for space grew, both on my part and his, and ostensibly this is the circumstance upon which my decision to move out was based, though I now see it goes much deeper.

Some weeks ago our downstairs neighbors revealed nobody there had a vehicle any longer. I am not sure if I was the one to give the news to my landlord, but at any rate he wasted no time in paying for an understanding he would have full use of the garage. For a time I shared in his happiness; or, I was happy for him and hoped it would help him be happy. I know his cars are important to him, and being able to bring another of them home should be grand. I did not foresee how the situation would devolve, and how it would make me more resentful of him, and resentful of myself for resenting at all.

At a family meeting I called for just two weeks ago, my landlord shared he yearns for a minimalist garage. He did not call or run the meeting himself despite being the landlord. It was I who suffered the greatest discrepancy between investment and yield, so it was I who made the case for us all taking two hours of our busy lives to better understand one another. Two hours for which I had to fight requests to “timebox to an hour” as if the agreed upon terms were a joke, for which I had to fight for consensus. I do not blame the others for not feeling invested in this life together, but I feel my investment, rather than being nourished, withers in a vacuum in the back of some painter’s stolen pickup truck.

The suggestion I de-invest from the garage in pursuit of some minimalism among growing numbers of luxury vehicles seemed preposterous to me. Even more preposterous than paying hundreds of dollars for cleaners who barely clean but manage to dispose of my belongings nearly every time, the topic that catalyzed the family meeting happening in the first place.

It should not be such a big deal, but I really do resent nearly everything money touches recently. The innocent mentions of my under market rent have always made me wish I never agreed to move in. Or at least made me wish I knew what I was moving into. When I was first told of the opening, it was not painted as a charity case. It was a tiny room of uncertain dimensions likely nine feet squared for $1000 plus sizable utilities, utilities which have seen decreases thanks to thousands of dollars of home automation equipment I paid for and installed myself, and thanks to a dozen hours battling the cable company I also took on myself, only to be offset by a rent increase. But hey, his property taxes went up! Nor was the room even really for me. I almost lost it to my landlord’s brother, which would have been more than understandable, though now I doubt it would have been a loss at all. I figured it was a good thing I am naturally so helpful compared to what I heard of the people who would be my roommates – they are all busy people. I did not explicitly aim to compensate for lower rent with manual labor, but it seemed I could not escape the expectation with each mention of below market rent.

For the record, $1300 or $1400 for a tiny bedroom is nothing to scoff at in San Francisco, but it is certainly not unheard of, either. Listings on Craigslist right now reveal comparable rooms to be had for $850 in this very neighborhood, to say nothing of the larger rooms in Sunset for half that or the concept of not ripping off your friends. But again, this is an issue about which I reserve no rights to complain, for I am not the owner, and I agreed to move in. Honestly, I only recently realized how much this issue affected me. It should not matter to me whether it is a money making enterprise; what is fair is fair. But, I have to wonder how a description of house finances being a wash can fail to consider it is my friend and landlord who pockets half the payments as equity.

Not a big deal on the surface, but as I said in the family meeting, consideration is what is a big deal to me. Simple acknowledgement. Greet people upon entering, bid farewell upon leaving. Nothing complicated or unnatural. When under market rent is mentioned, it feels I am being told I am saving thousands and should be so grateful. It sounds to me like the work I put into the house is not noticed, and certainly not accounted for. Through cleaning and repairs and maintenance and improvements I have averaged 20 or maybe even 40 hours of work on top of those monthly rent payments, but that has only gotten me an unhappy sense of needing to fight to offset undesired effects of my being here. Through all the mentions of under market rent, I have not heard mention of the real value of my work. Even at the cleaners’ low rate of $40 per hour, my added value must be on the order of $1000 a month? It would be different if we all contributed equally, but there has never been such an expectation, and again, I do not blame anyone for the state of things. I was not asked to do any work at all – all the more reason I should not feel compelled. All I ever hoped for was an understanding we are working toward a common goal of being happy together while we are here.

Our means to that goal of happiness diverged clearly in my mind when it was so easy for him to express desire for a minimalist garage without acknowledging what that means for me, without having a discussion about what exactly needs to change, what is acceptable, how we can work together. I had proposed building cabinets or shelving myself, if that might help, though I got no response. I saw no signal of desire to work together. But, I know my perception is often clouded by shields of mutual introversion.

Part of me wonders if the expanding sense of control of the garage bred intolerance for my stuff being there, too. Part of me wonders if an intolerance for things associated with Burning Man played a role. Amid all my wonders, I lost my temper upon getting my landlord’s response regarding the vacuum. Another grudge held against me had been revealed – one held apparently for an entire year! – despite my continual efforts to talk and make sure we have no qualms in the house. He was under the impression I had harshly broken in the last brand new vacuum with cleanup from Burning Man last year, and he apparently did not know the actual cause of the vacuum becoming quite dirty was that I spent nearly a full week cleaning the garage last summer, on my own volition, but with permission to use the vacuum to boot. Many things are forgotten over the course of a year, and many things can be imagined, as well. Unfortunately for me this resulted in a good deed and a lot of work being traded for resentment against me, the vacuum and possibly Burning Man.

I left that aisle wishing there were a vacuum in my heart instead of fire. I was starting to think I really might be best off moving out. And then my phone rang. Unknown number.

Hello, it’s Maureen! Sorry for dropping the ball…”

Maureen is the previous owner of our house. Ordinarily a new tenant such as myself wouldn’t have had occasion to speak with a previous owner, but I had that pleasure several times. First it was when she dropped off some architectural drawings unannounced but while I was the only one home. Then it was due to my efforts to convey hundreds of pieces of mail that had accumulated here over the years. My landlord had been stuffing them into kitchen cabinets, and eventually just discarding, understandably. I let Maureen know we had been receiving it for years, and she then put forwarding in place and made attempts to coordinate with me to pick up the bundles.

I told her I would be home that afternoon, and while I would not have been annoyed if she could not make it, I was glad she in fact did.

I met her outside, partly because the living room’s missing coffee table had been replaced with piles of my landlord’s stuff his dad dropped off two months ago, stuff dwarfed by my projects cleaning up from Burning Man. At least the carpet was finally clean after sitting with what I thought was vomit stains for the most of the last year. No, I was not involved with destroying the carpet, but yes, I did clean it. The house is a living and breathing entity with progress being made constantly on many fronts, but never finished; it can be a thing of beauty.

Her smile was warm, and while I knew this was just a stop and not her destination, it did not surprise me she used some time to connect. She opted to come over instead of having me forward the mail, and while that made me less useful, I appreciated it. She inquired about the neighbors about whom it was clear she knew far more than I did, making me realize there are whole buildings I have never noticed anyone inside. She commented on the neighborhood and incidents of the past involving a burning body and homeless encampments in front of our garage. She reflected on the investment of money and time and energy the house demanded, on the home she built here.

I somewhat jokingly said I was glad to get the mail to her finally, for I would be leaving soon, and then there would be nobody left who cared. That comment seemed to cut deeply, into us both. I held it together but I really wanted to give her a hug. We talked about the demands of living with people and balancing relationships. We talked about my bedroom that was her daughter’s. I offered she could come inside, but she brushed it off, saying, “It breaks my heart.”

I sensed she knows my struggle all too well. She was, and is still, invested in this house. She wants it to be a happy home. She might even feel responsible for pain felt here, as if she could have somehow done better. We joked about the electrical wiring and the changes the building has seen, but the time and energy spent is no joke. The real joke is we sometimes think we can live our lives without affecting, and investing in, everything and everyone around us. This. Is. Life!

It has been two days since Maureen’s visit. Two days since I confided my plans to my roommates with whom I’ve had good relations. I held off discussing with my landlord, unsure if I would further discuss it at all or just give my 30 days’ notice. I wanted to vent everything to him: ask for payment on the network monitoring and upgraded electrical and home security components or ask I can uninstall and sell them, tell him to deal with Comcast himself, start watering his plants and fixing his house himself, be responsible. I wanted to complain about how I have felt insult and inconsideration time and again. I knew none of that would be fair, for either of us; I took this all on myself. But I do not see a way forward that is not a lose-lose situation. I felt I tried so many times, and the battle was already lost.

I have struggled with my idea of our friendship for years, and that is mostly on me. I make assumptions other people should express consideration as I do. I rationalize they must not care if they do not seem to. I should not expect everyone to devote the same attention I do. I think I have tried to make an effort to improve, but it is confusing when improvement might be putting in less effort, not more. Further, it is impossible to know if the failure is in being too busy or in lacking desire.

I hate feeling my friend has turned into someone whose life is hijacked by craving and is suffering tunnel vision that prevents him from simply enjoying what is right here.1 I hate thinking that might have been the situation all along. I hate not being able to help or even make a difference.

The thought of leaving this house really does break my heart, for I have grown to care for Philipp despite my preconditioning, and while Paul is gone and our exciting conversations are in the past, his departure made room for Yizhen, my good friend. His moving in was a highlight of my year, and Tyler’s probably the highlight of Derek’s, and I looked forward to much happiness to come. How has it changed so fast in my heart?

I know that speed itself is a sign I should take heed, yet I think my understanding solidifies. I do not want to spend my remaining years of youth fighting for recognition. I do not even want recognition. I just want to live in a place where I see the people around me striving in their own ways and feel their vitality sustaining each of them and their relationships. I want my energy and excitement to build off everyone else’s, not be consumed by them.

I would love to just one time go on a camping trip with my roommates. Or to sit together and get lost in a deep house melody. Or have a meal together. Or sit in my room. That none of those has happened in 18 months pretty much destroys all hope I have of a home where I can just relax and be who I am, secure in the knowledge I live with people who care about me just as much as I care about them, and want me to be happy just as much as I want them to be.

Maybe I am just too sensitive; maybe I am not numb enough. But when I pay attention, I see we are all sensitive. In the words of J. Krishnamurti, “To pay attention means we care, which means we really love.”

[COLLAPSE=Excerpt from “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach]

The following passages from the section “When addictive wanting takes over our life” resonated with me and I referred to them above. Emphasis added:

When desire gets strong, mindfulness goes out the window.

We can honor desire as a life force but still see how it causes suffering when it takes over our life. Our natural hunger for food can become an ungovernable craving for food: ice cream, sweets, potato chips; comfort food or food to numb our feelings. Our longing for sex and affection can become and anguished dependency on another human being to define and please us. Our need for shelter and clothing can turn into insatiable greed, compelling us to possess three houses and closets full of unworn shoes. Our fundamental longing to belong and feel loved becomes an insistent craving for substitutes. If we have been acutely frustrated or deprived, our fixated desire becomes desperate and unquenchable. We are possessed by craving, and our entire life is hijacked by the force of this energy. We feel like a wanting self in all situations with all people throughout the day. In India it is said that when a pickpocket sees a saint, he or she sees only the saint’s pockets. If we are taken over by craving, no matter who or what might be before us, all we can see is how it might satisfy our needs. This kind of thirst contracts our body and mind into a profound trance. We move through the world with a kind of tunnel vision that prevents us from enjoying what is in front of us. The color of the autumn leaves, or a passage of poetry, merely amplifies the feeling that there is a gaping hole in our life. The smile of a child only reminds us that we are painfully childless. We turn away from simple pleasures because our craving compels us to seek more intense stimulation or numbing relief. Addictive craving is extremely difficult to endure without acting out. As Oscar Wilde put it, “I can resist anything but temptation.” Temptation is an emotional promise that we will experience the pleasure we so intensely crave. Anyone who has struggled with smoking, compulsive overeating or drug or relationship addictions knows the compelling force of these physical and mental urges. We don’t want to forgo the cigarette and take a nice walk, listen to soothing music, breathe deeply, we just want what we want. While we might consciously recognize that the fix is a temporary substitute, we still feel we have to have it.

Whenever we wholeheartedly attend to the person we are with, to the tree in our front yard, or to a squirrel perched on a branch, this living energy becomes and intimate part of who we are. Spiritual teacher J. Krishnamurti wrote that, “To pay attention means we care, which means we really love.” Attention is the most basic form of love. By paying attention, we let ourselves be touched by life, and our hearts naturally become more open and engaged.

We care about the awakened heart because like a flower in full bloom it is the full realization of our nature. Feeling loved and loving matters to us beyond all else. We feel most who we are when we feel connected to each other and the world around us. When our hearts are open, generous, and filled with love.