Some might say I’m Tommy Lee Jonesing to use these skills

Very few of my Saturdays are filled with learning. Their normal M.O. is brunch, coffee and maybe some form of hangout.

Today’s Saturday ventured right outside its traditional territory. I’m going away to a regional Burning Man next week. Part of the Burning Man ethos is giving back, which means volunteering your time for acts of service. You’re expected to pick up a volunteer shift at some point throughout the burn. I’ve got no issue picking up MOOP (Matter Out Of Place), but I figured I could be put to a different use than that. I volunteered for Sanctuary, which is a place that individuals in a heightened state can come to get grounded. It’s filled with all manner of soft and warm plounge things, stuffed toys and blankets. There are colouring books and people who have education in talking people down from places of stress or anxiety. As I learned in today’s education session, Sanctuary isn’t an I want a chill space sort of deal. One of Burning Man’s central tenets is Radical Self-Reliance, or the ability to take responsibility for yourself. Part of this involves a community providing care for their own. Sanctuary is more in line with the Men In Black “Last line of defence against the worst scum of the universe” mentality. Sorry, MENtality. If someone’s in an extreme altered state or unresponsive, we provide support or facilitate with Rangers or First Aid as to the best course of action. It’s pretty worthwhile work.

For eight hours, we learned about how to facilitate these experiences. We learned how to and not to act, what to and not to say. It was mostly clearer than my previous sentence. It was altogether a pretty large group, and the length of the session really reinforced how seriously they take this service. It was a pretty wide swath of ideas and concepts, from things that seemed intuitive to all new techniques. A large part of the focus was on teaching us that we weren’t there to solve any problems. We weren’t there to provide suggestions, counselling, therapy or answers. Our role was to ground our subjects and provide space where they’d be able to come back to Earth. Maybe with colouring books.

That sounds glib, it was more than that. There was a big focus on Active Listening as a prime technique. Active Listening, if you’re not familiar, is a technique that centres around re-framing what the subject has said as a way of making them feel heard and understood. Example:

A: It’s really shitty that my Mum won’t trust me to go out to this party on my own. I’m not a fucking kid anymore.
B: That sucks. It sounds like you feel more responsible than she gives you credit for.
A: Exactly!

Or something of the like. There’s a lot more to it than that. There are non-verbal cues or verbal punctuation (grunts of affirmation, etc) that show your subject that you’re paying attention and listening. There’s the principle of leading them to realise what they need or affirm it for you. Basically, you’re guiding them to find answers of their own. I’ve got a lot of absurdly emotionally acuitive people in my life (I mean, I live with one) so a lot of it seemed second nature to me. We split into groups of three to practice, one would be talking, one active listening and the other observing. It was really interesting being the observer, taking into account how others conversed and showed active support.

Another demonstration we had was on the differences between looking/listening/feeling both outward and inward. Outward looking would be seeing things with our eyes. Inward looking would be closing our eyes and looking with our imagination. Outward listening would be taking in audio stimuli. Internal listening would be hearing our inner voice, sounds our brain would produce. Outward feeling would be attuning to physical sensations. Inward feeling would be understanding how the emotional attachment to those stimuli. If this sounds pointless, there’s more. So often when we’re concentrating on one of these six channels, we blank out the other ones. Some are heightened, while others are relaxed. When someone is in a heightened state, it’s often in a number of these channels, while the unused ones remain relaxed. If they’re having trouble being overstimulated, focusing their attention to the relaxed states can help reduce that stimulation and lower stress. It’s not a matter of saying specifically “hey bro, listen inward now”, but more about guiding them through their experience to find a peace of sorts. It’s grounding. Comforting.

Honestly, the inward/outward sensation piece was a pretty useful tool. So many times when I’m feeling stressed or anxious, it’s in one of these areas. Refocusing to a calmer place could do wonders for overall mood. Spending my Saturday effectively in class isn’t my usual preference, but it’s gonna be a pretty warm feeling being able to help others in times of need.

It’s not like brunch is going anywhere any time soon.

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Now that you mention it, I am a pretty flash dancer.

Apropos of nothing outside years of fluctuating behaviour, I decided to google “hypomania” today.

Hoo boy.

How you might feel:

  • happy, euphoric, with a sense of wellbeing
  • lots of energy
  • sociable
  • racing thoughts
  • creative and full of ideas and plans
  • like you can perform tasks better and more quickly than normal
  • impatient, irritable or angry
  • confident, with high self-esteem
  • attractive, flirtatious and/or with more sexual desire
  • restless, on edge and having difficulty relaxing
  • heightened senses – colours may seem brighter, sounds louder and things more beautiful

How you might behave:

  • more active than usual
  • taking risks
  • very friendly
  • very talkative or writing a lot
  • sleeping very little
  • signing up for and taking part in lots of activities
  • taking on extra responsibilities
  • wearing colourful and/or extravagant clothes
  • making lots of jokes and puns
  • finding it hard to stay still – moving around a lot or fidgeting

I dunno. Maybe it’s a tad relatable. I don’t ascribe to the thought that self-diagnosis carries a ton of weight. I really don’t. I’m not even close to a medical professional. Even as an armchair psychologist, I have trouble sitting still. I want to be very clear when I say that any of the following is not meant to trivialise or tokenise mental illness or symptoms of mania at all. I’m sure a lot of the above is evergreen enough that everyone feels this way from time to time. I have never been diagnosed with a condition of any kind and the thought of detracting from the very valid experiences of others would not sit well with me.

That being said, how much of the above applies to my very regular behaviour? So often it feels like the world is moving too slowly. I’ve applied the word “ludic” to my personality before, but it’s occasionally felt insubstantial. I find myself on these spontaneous tears where I can’t do or say enough to convey how my brain is feeling. Overly sociable, charismatic and confident. I get antsy and impatient for people to finish sentences, because of this overwhelming urge that I already knew where they were going from the first couple of words. My thoughts are scattered, but rapid. Crazy quick synaptic connections. Jokes and puns, understanding and dismantling structures social, narrative and psychological. Focusing on/completing a task has never been a massive issue, but I’m usually thinking of the next couple while I’m doing it. Infinite ideas, creativity out each and every one of my wazoos.

The idea of not doing something at every moment feels suffocating. Relaxation seems like a punishment. If I’m not active, why am I alive? Despite knowing that my body needs it, I’ve always viewed sleep as a waste of potential waking hours. I’ll feel this compulsion to be doing more, as many things at once as possible. An insatiable urge for my consumption to keep up with my racing mind. Any substances that can preserve this overly energetic state, I need all of them at once. Sure, I know I’m not gonna feel great later if I drink an unhealthy volume of coffee, but it feels transcendent now. Why not gorge on everything and become one with every atom in my vicinity?

Then downswings. Days, weeks, months. Withdrawing from human contact. Excessive negative self-talk. Irrational irritability. Implacable frustration. A pervasive sense of dissatisfaction with everything. Feelings of disconnect and isolation. This notion that nobody really understands me.

Wait, am I just a teenager?

Who knows, really? If anything, I’m not sure what good labels would do. Is this cycle (which admittedly has more up than down) hurtful to my everyday? Is the cost of the lows worth the highs? I’m not gonna lie, if it’s a touch of mania that propels me, it’s an incomparable sensation. Like gravity has no hold on me. As if boundaries are abstract. An almost divine indomitably. It makes me feel special and gee golly that’s a swell feeling.

Or it could be nothing and maybe I merely drink too much coffee.

Losing my edge would cut me like a knife.

I have consumed a quantity of coffee that has transported me outside of liminal time. I’m not sure when I am, so I figure I might as well roll with whatever flashes through my noggin. When should I start?

I once saw a woman sitting on a bench holding a small dog in one hand and a chandelier in another. I had no context for the encounter. Equally, I’ve got no desire to find out what led to that moment. It feels like it’d ruin the magic. I’m choosing to believe that she’d not only vanished between liminal time, but space. Any logic of this situation could only be parsed by quantum mechanics and frankly, I don’t have time or space for that. I guess you could say she seemed… quarky? I sense a phase shift coming on.

Spike Jonze just put out this advert and I think it’s all kinds of nifty. Look, I find intrusive and clumsy advertising as annoying as the rest of you do. That being said, it’s rare for me to tire of gushing over the great advertising I grew up with. Adverts in NZ were sarcastic, clever and really delivered on their objectives. Good advertising is effective, tells a story and makes your customer wonder why they don’t already have the product in their lives. In this case, maybe it delivers? I’m not 100% sure, but it’s sure as hell pretty as fuck. All music videos are advertisements anyway, right? It just so happens that in this one you’ve got Anderson .Paak’s gorgeously smooth vocals, FKA Twigs dancing up a storm of interpretive dance, the wonderfully imaginative visual stylings of Jonze and it’s all wrapped up in a tidy four minute clip. I was never gonna be the target market for a Smart Home device, but I’m sure if you were, the idea of being served an ideal soundtrack at will would be enough to sell you on it. Speaking of which, let’s jump back a week or so.

I was in Austin chatting with friends. We were talking specifically about these home devices, algorithmic learning and soundtracks. I was saying how on a personal level, I have an innate fear of this technology. Fear might be a bit strong, but it makes me feel uneasy. In my head it goes to a place where we no longer take an active role in choosing what we consume. There’s maybe a chip or something inside of us that just knows what we’ll enjoy. I’m sure the technology will get accurate enough to make it a reality. There’s a non-insignificant part of my identity that’s tied up in what I consume.

When something hits all the right beats for me, it feels like it’s added to my life. Whether this is music or a great narrative. Part of the satisfaction that comes from accessing those highs is going through the lows for contrast. Great music shines so brightly because terrible music exists. I can get bowled over completely by everything about Janelle Monáe’s new track “Make Me Feel” in part because in 1998 Shaun Mullins released his misguided tyre fire “Lullaby”. Seriously that song is so excruciating it becomes a physical sensation. “Make Me Feel“, on the other hand feels like a reward for endurance. If everything was perfect, then nothing would transcend. It’d all just be wallpaper. One of my most gratifying recurrent experiences is recommending something to a friend based on how well I know them. I’ll take their personality and preferences into account. I’ll factor their sensibilities, brand of humour and capacity for certain types of content to figure out whether or not they’ll jive with my suggestion. I’m not shooting 100% here, but having a friend come back to me thanking me for sharing is such a wonderful sensation. It tells me that I know them well enough to understand what they’re looking for, but also points to a growth in our kinship, that we both resonated with the same content in some fashion. I feel closer to them for having had that experience.

If a machine is gonna come and take that away from me, what do I have left? I’ll just be here caffeinating myself out of the timeline.

Austintinnabulation.

You know what? It IS a good morning. Thanks for asking. I’m fresh faced after a night out on the town. I can confidently say that I’m having a capitol time here in Austin. As soon as we stepped off the bus the smell of barbecue was both immediate and arresting. I think that’s what “living your best life” is. Everything here is enormous, both in value and impression. I’m sitting in Summer Moon cafe enjoying a colossal 20 oz Summermoon, their signature drink. It has a quad shot and it was all of $6. Ridiculous. It’s something I always forget about when in the states. Portions. We bought a couple of $5 happy hour “appies” and they were basically full meals. Two sliders and fries, a chunky slab of mixed cerviche/avocado with a side of nacho chips. Gargantuan. Food is abundant and inexpensive. Do I have to ever leave?

The drinks are STRONG too. I chatted with our server about them. I told her back in NZ, a double shot was standard. In Canada a single shot is the go-to. How was the US in this equation, I asked. “Oh, they’re single pours” she assured me. “Our barman just happens to have a heavy hand.” According to the rest of the night, Austinites just have heavy hands. We met many heavy handed bartenders, like the one making White Russians for my friend. “We’re out of cream” he said “so I’ll just use baileys instead if you don’t mind.” My friend very much did not mind, so the bartender handed him a cup of straight liquor. Yeah, we had a night. Happy Hour is a revelation here. Cheap mixed drinks EVERYWHERE. Lots of snacks and apps. The locals come out and they’re chatty. It’s the best. After some hectic afternoon drinking last night we settled in at The Ginger Man, a quiet and comfy craft beer bar. A huge variety of international beer, big leather couches and most importantly, a dart board. The three of us spent hours playing Around the World and getting to know whatever locals stuck around the bar. There was a dude on a date who started jokingly (but maybe not?) accusing me of stealing his date. Odd, I was chatting with the two of them, zero ulterior motive. I dunno, she seemed to be enjoying herself hanging out with the three of us, but he decided to call it and take her with him. There was some older British/American lady who ended up bringing over her entourage to all hang out. It was fantastic. They were all so friendly and she was a fun, punchy artist with a starfucker streak. She was telling us where to go to meet Mike Judge, his favourite bar wasn’t from our Air BnB. Then she casually mentioned knowing Richard Linklater and my brain kind of broke. She offered to take us all fo a drive out of Austin central if we wanted, to get barbecue at this great place just outside town. It felt like a super genuine offer. Her husband was super into architecture and told me about this place called Soane House to check out on my impending London holiday. We were having a fucking blast, then decided to hip hop on out of there and off to a dance night at a messy student bar. 10/10, exactly the kind of night I wanted.

I guess it’s worth mentioning my travel companions. They’re a couple and honestly, I fucking adore them. They’re excellent to travel with. We’re all pretty easy going and there’s a pervasive atmosphere of “greenlighting” going on. If anyone ever wants to have an experience, the rest of us do what we can to accommodate them and make that experience happen. We’re all close enough that we can speak honestly and bluntly if need be. We’re having good emotional check ins and helping to facilitate everyone enjoying their holiday to the max (like we used to back in the 90s. Remember taking things to the max? It was radical). They’re both sharp as a tack, witty and clever. He has this natural gift with words and they both have immense emotional aptitude. She’s a comic and they’re both unbelievably funny. We’re all just doing bits and callbacks constantly. It’s absurd. Tossing out malafors and messing with protracted idioms, it’s getting gloriously bizarre. Holy fuck am I ever happy right now.

More than anything, my stomach’s dreams are coming true constantly. Yesterday we had the best tacos I’ve had in my life. One was a shrimp taco slathered in proprietary fish sauce. The other was a diabolically hot jerk chicken and mango one. Here in Austin there’s a taco spot on every block. Some have several. Torchy’s Tacos have set a high bar. Let’s see if anything’s gonna clear it. I also think my central character development through the trip is gonna be understanding and setting my own limitations. I think I discovered one of those boundaries at a bakery yesterday. I was taken by this enormous and elaborate Cookie Monster concoction. It was constructed of two chocolate chip cookies with a large dollop of whipped cream in between. The top was adorned with what I assumed was some kind of blue fondant, but happened to be more whipped cream. Enough to make the word “excessive” an understatement. I assumed Cookie Monster’s eyes would be marshmallows or something. NOPE. More whipped cream. I was a whirling dervish of stray blue cream, which got fucking everywhere. My hands were stained, my teeth discoloured and my tongue looked like a giraffe’s. It was brutal. Blue-tal? I knew it was too much before I bought it. I was certain it was too much when I set it down in front of me. The first bite assured me I was making a mistake. The beard full of blue whipped cream only brought it home. Before I even finished the first cookie I knew I’d feel awful if I proceeded further. Not having anything to prove, I should’ve quit while I was ahead. Being me, of course I didn’t. I had so much fucking sugar that I felt like a total mess. Underslept, overfed and wired on coffee, I was trash incarnate. It was wonderful.

This morning my poo was a toxic forest green. I think Cookie Monster may have impregnated me with a weird alien foetus. Hey, we’re in Austin. The city motto is “Keep Austin Weird.” I’m only following the imperative.

Oh to be a carb-on based life form once more.

I’m out of town tomorrow, I’m so checked out already. I’d say I might as well be gone by now, but I haven’t packed a thing. I’m heading straight to the airport after work, so I guess packing is tonight’s business. I’m going for five days, it’s hard to mess that up.

Work lately has been both difficult and simple. It’s been difficult to put any intentionality or mindfulness into my work. It’s frankly not that kind of job. It’s been simple in that the work isn’t difficult, so I’ve been carving through it in an attempt to clear up potential covering that my coworkers would need to do. With little to no extra effort, I’m about a week ahead at this point. It’s alarming how much more I could be doing in more ways than one. I’ve been under no illusion for the past few years that I’m wasting time at this job, but clearly nobody could accuse me of wasting effort. In some ways it’s made me realise how badly I want to be the kind of person who invests their identity into the way they pay the bills. In other ways it’s brought home how severely I can’t with this job. My therapist told me two years ago I needed to get out. I listened, I tried, I failed. I guess like Aaliyah I’ll need to Try Again.

In preparation for my brief Texan sojourn, I’ve dumped keto. It’s been an incremental process over the last two days. By tomorrow I feel like I will have transitioned. It was the kind of exciting shit that’s a) not actually exciting and b) actually exciting to me. Yesterday I had oatmeal for breakfast for the first time in months. It wasn’t my usual concoction (I used coconut milk instead of soy and had no banana). As a hybrid it wasn’t perfect, but non-perfect was considerably better than non-existent. This morning I tried it with a banana. The banana wasn’t ripe and thus not sweet, but the consistency was closer than normal. My body also felt buzzed indulging in real sugar, even if it was just a banana’s worth. I haven’t done a full 180, but I’m trying to up my carbs, lower my fats and increase protein in an attempt to ease the transition. I had milk this afternoon. Tomorrow I might even try bread. What a brave new old world. On Friday I’m going to ingest every single carb based food in existence. Food truck tacos, pizza, burgers, chips, lattes, cookies, cakes, beer, happy hour cocktails. I’m going to return as a blimp to save on airfare.

I have one work day left. That’s it. I’m likely gonna do about an hour’s worth of work then spend the rest of my time twiddling my thumbs until it’s early enough to ditch. Speaking of which, it’s about time to check out here.

One more day! One more day!

Everyone’s always so quick to blame the scotchka.

I feel rough as guts, that’s how going back to drinking went. It’s 8pm and I may still be hungover. This hangover has been remarkable. Not in a pleasant fashion, but in its length and depth. Fluid movement has been off the table since this morning. I’m a shambling mass trying to navigate the minefield of Getting Shit Done. Fortunately I’ve got nowhere to be for several days. I was hoping to get out and see Black Panther today though.

I was sick. Let’s get that out of the way. I chundered spectacularly just as we were ready to get into bed. It was awful and covered the sheets. My girlfriend sighed and took charge, grabbing spare sheets and we set to making the bed for a second time. When we’d finally finished, my body took that as a sign to unleash hell. I upchucked on the bed again. Demoralising and disgusting in one package. My girlfriend handed me an old pair of spare sheets and told me I was on my own. Fair call. She slept in the spare bedroom and I somehow managed to mostly keep my little chunks inside my body. At some point I awoke and continually began throwing up bile into a mixing bowl she’d left for me. I checked in the morning, it was a sickly blackish green. Nasty as fuck. My girlfriend went to work at 10am, leaving me with pain meds and water by my bed. I don’t know what I did to deserve her.

I lay in bed all day, drifting between sleep and gentle dosing. I felt incapable of moving. At some point my downstairs neighbour began strumming his guitar and singing along. It was actually really lovely to listen to. I felt broken, but relaxed. My body wanted to pee, but my head wanted me to stay in bed. My head won. That was me for most of the day. It’s sad that being irreparably hungover was what it took for me to relax for once, but aside from feeling ratchet, it was kinda pleasant. After some time I figured it was getting late. It’s probably after 3pm by now I thought. I looked at my phone, it was 3:30pm. I’d spent the entire day being hungover. I guess I paid for my revelry tenfold.

Thing is, I had such a fantastic night. The party was amazing. They’d recreated a bunch of The Room’s sets. There were framed pictures of spoons everywhere. Everyone seemed to come in costume and there were some awesome left field ones. A guy just came as The Cancer Doctor, carrying Claudette’s diagnosis with him continually (“You definitely have breast cancer” was all it said). It felt like half the people attending were keto, so there were a bunch of keto friendly snacks. I got to catch up with some good friends I hadn’t seen in something like six months. Drinking again was predictably fun. Even taking today into consideration, I regret nothing.

Come to think of it, this whole exercise was invaluable. After several months on the wagon, I’d forgotten how to handle myself. My resistance had plummeted. The rum went straight to my head. I was having the time of my life, but I’d clearly forgotten that drinking doesn’t make you invincible. Considering I’m heading to Austin in four days, I needed to remember this. Can you imagine how shitty it’d be getting ruined in Austin and wasting my vacation on a hangover? This harsh lesson hopefully saved me from making a dick of myself with the abundant and cheap booze that’s sure to be on hand. I mean, of course I’m still gonna drink. Maybe I’ll do a better job of managing just how much I do.

The silver lining of being hungover at the moment is that keto cuisine is hellishly hangover friendly. I’ve practically just been eating mayo on everything today. Cheese, avocado, mayo. It’s all right there for the taking. Plus in precisely five minutes I’m about to tuck into some meaty chicken bones I’ve roasted while watching a big dumb superhero flick. I guess this day’s turning around after all.

There’s a VR game we could all use.

I may have overdone it with the coffee today and I think my body is imploding. You’d think I’d be bouncing off the walls, but instead my corporeal form is in disrepair attempting to process it all. I’m wading through mental sludge and progress is both slow and plodding. Can you plod in a swamp? Is plodding tied to speed or specificity of action? In my head it’s onomatopoeic and relies on heavy footfalls. Do you make heavy footfalls in a swamp if any evidence is mired within dense and viscous liquid? Does a foot fall of nobody can see or hear it?

Why is there no Buddhist film making team called the Kōan Brothers?

I bought a VR headset yesterday simply because it was cheap. $10 down from $50. Came with a bluetooth controller and earphones. It’s not advanced and for the most part it’s just plastic housing for a mobile phone. Still, I’ve been curious to give VR tech a try for a while. I’ve always had issues with motion sickness and my pre-eminent worry is that VR will be a quick way to throw up. In the past it’s been a depth of field issue. With First Person Shooters if I can’t see the character’s hands, I get queasy. I tried downloading this game Zombie Shooter last night, but five minutes in I got sorta nauseous. I’m hoping it’s not a VR-wide issue. Youtube has a ton of 360 degree videos. Perhaps I’ll try one of them. It’d be sort of shit to be pushed out of an emergent technology because my brain can’t handle choppy visuals.

Wait. Maybe the secret is to overdose on coffee first. How many cups have I had today? Four or five? If my brain is too tired to properly process the information being fed into it, maybe that’ll smooth out the lacklustre frame rate. I can hack my body chemistry with bro science! Or I’ll see what my innards look like on the floor. Bad end.

I got distracted and stopped typing. I’ve gotta keep this train rolling by any means necessary. Is Barney the Dinosaur still around? Apparently it finished back in 2009. Odd as it sounds, when I was younger I half wished I was even younger so I could’ve enjoyed it. Of course I would’ve wanted to learn math from a dinosaur. Still, when it premiered I was old enough to take joy in mocking the show. I remember hearing about a Doom 2 mod called Barney Doom. Back in those pre-internet days, everything was hearsay and bootlegs. It was rare to get a hold of those prized rarities. They were like contraband. I’d heard of Barney Doom but never played it. As a seven year old, nothing sounded funnier than blowing Barney to bits with the BFG. Was it some latent counter-culture manifesting at my young age? Rebelling against what exactly? Saccharine educational content aimed at a younger generation? Woah, don’t cut yourself on that edge, kiddo. Then again, it sounds like the wheel has turned and Barney now has lessons I’d benefit from.

Now all that free love he was spouting makes an awful lot of sense.