Met a great guy up at Wanderlust Tahoe this year, grizzled and sly, total Burner-tastic, probably 50 but also sort of ageless, a dead ringer for Ted Nugent except not at all a monstrous libertarian bow-hunting idiot jackass you never want to be anywhere near.
My friend, let's call him Rick, he was selling his Bali-made, Burning Man-style festival clothes in a large and super-popular booth packed to the poles with shredded, ultra-threaded, leather-fringed and wildly tinged festival-wear, the kind that looks fantastic when covered in dust and spilled tequila and which loves to be worn every day for two weeks straight in an unwashed, orgiastic stupor.
Rick and I got to chatting. About Burning Man. About clothes and yoga, Bali and life itself. He looked familiar? Surely our paths have crossed? Surely our camps have merged at some point out on the playa?
Turned out to be true. We sort of knew each other. The festival circuit, transformational events, music and heat and a mad swirl of OMG yes. His camp's Golden Dragon bus (from Abraxas) has surely teamed up with my camp's Garage Mahal flame-throwing double-decker dance-mobile? Aha! Small world.
The obvious question came up: Was he going to Burning Man this year? Ah, he wasn't sure. Pointed to his wife sitting nearby, a hotly tattooed blonde in long dreadlocks and a perfectly shredded red dress, chatting amiably with a friend. Said they have a 2-year-old back home, and they've been traveling a lot, selling at festivals. Might have to stick to the home front this year.
Of course! I said. BM is rough on kids, after all, way too intense. The heat, the dust, the dangerous elements are tough on those little bodies, right? Not really healthy or safe. Besides, how can the parents indulge all proper-like when the kid is ever needy and wailing? Nothing like birthing a kid to throw your BM plans to the long-term wayside, am I right, Rick?
Rick was shocked. "Hell, no!" he said, a jolt of bemused disbelief in his voice. "Our kid would love Burning Man," he said. Told me his kid was ingesting hardcore DJ booms in the womb, has nerves of steel and loves to run headlong into any party situation with a giant grin and a fearless yelp. "He'd have a blast at Burning Man!" Rick assured me. Even at two, I asked? Hell yes, even at two.
I stood corrected, my dumb and rather judgmental auto-assumption properly defenestrated. Take a 2-year-old to the playa without a problem? Why the hell not? We chatted some more, and I walked away smiling and nodding.
This is the thing, no? This is the conundrum wrapped in the paradox smacked upside the head with a big wallop of shut the hell up.
How locked down we become, how convinced we are that certain ways and modes are acceptable and right while others are not, how easy to remain stuck to a million western-fed BS lies about everything from parenting to politics, food to fashion. Such ridiculousness. Such bogus belief. Such bulls--t.
I've certainly enjoyed my own set of biases. For many years I used to see little kids at Burning Man -- sometimes even newborns, others just a few months old -- and I'd stare incredulously at the seemingly reckless parents. "How could you do this to that kid?" I seethed to myself. "What right do you have to submit a delicate, developing being to such extreme, dangerous conditions? Goddamn irresponsible, is what it is. Arrogant and selfish." I was convinced. Convinced!
Color me awakened. Of course this hot Burner couple could haul their tiny, tough-as-nails kid to BM without a hitch or a harsh letter from Child Protective Services. Of course we do not know what we think we know, you with your precious, saccharine Parenting Magazine and your endless fears of "Oh my God Timmy don't touch that dirty spoon you don't know where it's been." Such wimps we are. Whiny and self-victimized beyond recognition. Sheesh.
I was in Bali myself just recently, leading a fantabulous retreat (Yoga for Writers), which turned out to be three full weeks of glorious immersion in Balinese culture and the island's unerring beauty, totally drunk on the endless ritual, the stunning amount of everyday sacredness the Balinese infuse into every grin and crevasse of life.
Did you know that in Bali, babies are considered deities? That the feet of newborns do not touch the earth for three full months...
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Mark Morford is the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, a mega-collection of his finest columns for the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate, and the creator of the new Mark Morford's Apothecary iOS app. He's also a well-known ERYT yoga instructor in San Francisco. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...