Half a Banana Snot Brain
As well as some of the snails, dust, and fall foliage that occupy the other half.
Burning Man was a few months ago now, but it had to wait in there with all the other old junk — a couple of books, some Jim Beam, and a half-eaten banana, for instance — for this to come out so thanks for your patience.
If you’re not yet a subscriber, I’d be honored to have you.
I guess the first thing to say is that I miss Butterscotch, my cat who I had to give back to the Kuwaiti adoption agency a few weeks ago. I miss the gentle way he’d wake me up by lying on the pillow next to me. Almost like one of those sunrise lamps, I would start the day by slowly becoming aware of a presence next to me, a certain heft, as if he were a small furry sun and I were in orbit around him.
It’s not his fault he had a bunch of exotic viruses & parasites. It’s not my fault I have lupus.
I don’t talk about lupus much here but it is this strange force in my life, a little whirling dervish of chaos. It is trying so hard to be helpful! It’s my immune system, spotting any kind of inflammation or infection and then going gonzo on it, going out of control, attacking everything within reach, taking down the sick stuff and the healthy stuff and eventually whole organs. It’ll take me down if it can, in its attempt to keep me healthy. If I have a debrief with it in the afterlife, it’ll tell me, “but I always meant well.” I hope I can strangle things in the afterlife.
So now, oddly, it’s taken my cat.
Someone in my little congregation of mostly aging hippies, who also has a progressive disease, said he had always thought he would hate it, losing your capacities. But you don’t, not really, he said. The human capacity for adaptation is almost infinite. When you can’t do this, you do another thing. When your neurons break down here, they build a new path in a new direction.
And it’s true, you notice things more when you slow down. The moments are sweeter.
Someone gave me the snail book years ago. It’s a classic for people with chronic disease — a woman observes a snail during her recovery and it becomes her world. I only made it a chapter or so in.
I think I was recovering from some surgery or other when the book was given to me — just as I’ll be recovering soon from another surgery, most likely — and it was too on the nose and not on the nose at all, or so I hoped. I felt I wasn’t ready quite yet for the snail, placed delicately beside my bedside as my main companion and source of entertainment. I thought I had more adventures left in me, more wanders into true wilderness, more bad fashion choices, more loud music that would quiver a snail right to down to its slimy footpad.
I was right. Just this year I’ve canoed the Upper Missouri River and gotten trapped in the mud at Burning Man. But I also know that the snail days wait for me, if I’m lucky, just as they wait for us all.
I’ve been murdering a different nature book lately, Rooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature, and Spirit. Not on purpose, but I gather I have mixed feelings.
I’ve half-drowned the thing, I’ve covered it in banana snot from a half-eaten banana left in a bag.
I agree with the book’s end-of-chapter charges. “LISTEN FOR THE WILD SUMMONS,” one chapter instructs. “DECOMMODIFY THE FOREST,” from another chapter.
Walking barefoot is another charge. The author, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, acknowledges that it might not always be possible to walk everywhere barefoot. Walking inside barefoot is also OK.
Listen, I actually love being barefoot. This will probably gross out all my readers but those times I’ve been on the way to the airport and have realized I forgot to wear socks and I’m gonna go through the that big naked scanner thing barefoot I’m not entirely displeased. There’s something great about being barefoot in an inappropriate place, about touching the cool linoleum and — yes, I agree with Haupt — putting your bare feet on the ground does, in some deep way, literally ground me.
There’s some evidence that touching the floor, grounding yourself, and in particular touching the earth calms the body and especially the immune response. It has a name — earthing — and it has (of course) been commodified (see Haupt’s earlier charge to decommodify the forest). You can buy a mat with dirt in it for sleeping on, and a friend of mine does this and says it’s helpful.
Haupt cautions that while there is evidence supporting earthing, this evidence never congeals “quite into a convincing whole,” though it might in time.
Scientific research aside, when I walk outside, the fairly well-kept alley in the back of my building looks like this.
This is where the half-banana snot in my brain kicks in. You want me to *walk barefoot*? In *this city*? In *my life*?
Here’s where you can put your Pacific Northwest ideas, lady. Oops, did I drop your book in the bathtub again? I’m soooosorry!!!
When you arrive at Burning Man, you’ve been driving for who-knows-how-many-hours. Often days. Sometimes you’ve flown for days and driven for days. You’ve been planning for months.
All these cars are in the home stretch in an alien landscape — an ancient lakebed surrounded by mountains. A blank canvas, a nothingness through which six or so slow, patient lanes of traffic snake.
Everyone’s waiting to get in, but mostly they’re waiting for everyone to be offered a hug. That’s right — you don’t just hand your ticket over when you get to the front, you’re also offered the chance to get out of your car and get a hug from an official (volunteer) greeter.
Plus, anyone who’s new to Burning Man also has the option to ring a gong and make a dust angel. The moment before the newbies make the dust angel is the last time they’ll be clean all week; after they’ve made the angel, after they’re covered in dirt, and it’s at that point that they’re welcomed home.
One of my theories about Burning Man is that it’s the only time that most of the people who go to Burning Man get outside — really outside, not waiting for someone in the grass median dividing a Target parking lot or having a picnic in a neighborhood park but really and truly outside, with the stars and the horizon, the vast horizon — and they love it because getting outside is pretty great if you’ve spent the rest of the year inside. When they talk about the freedom of Burning Man, 36% of what they’re talking about is not being surrounded by beige carpets and ecru walls.
I wish I could turn off my banana snot brain sometimes. I think Burning Man works a lot better if you can. I think Haupt’s book works a lot better if you can. Instead I have a half-banana snot brain — I still read the book and like it but sometimes I feel cynical about it.
Sometimes the back alley of my brain is filled with broken Jim Beam flasks and flattened beer cans and a lot of dead leaves and rat shit and it’s hard to feel great about walking barefoot on it or appreciating the pace of the snails or the cockroaches that might traverse it. Sometimes I want to put on some big ugly black boots and get in a car and drive over it as fast as possible.
I don’t know if I’m the right person to write about Burning Man and nature because of all that banana snot up in my head, but anyway I did the thing. I got in the dust. I made the angel. I felt good afterwards.
I do, actually, believe that it means something that I touched dirt in the Black Rock Desert, just like it means something that I spent time in the water of the Upper Missouri earlier in the summer.
I can’t say for sure if Burning Man is a nature trip or not. There’s a lot of back alleys of the mind there for sure. A lot of broken Jim Beam bottles, a lot of rat shit.
But when the sun rises and splits open the world like an egg, the yolk flowing out along the desert sands and up the sides of the mountains, it’s almost impossible not to let it all go, to think at the pace of a snail, to feel attached to the dirt and the moment and to think that this instant, this particular place feels so special, and I am incredibly lucky to have made it so far.
Let me know if you like walking barefoot, if you’ve ever killed a nature book, or if, by any chance, you’ve ever driven a hundred miles an hour with the radio on.