In Which I Consider Facing an Endless Train Wreck

At Light Motifs, Paula Light said, “I sometimes protect myself from people by regarding them as characters in a novel instead of real beings.”

I understand that, and I do that too, though I’m not sure it’s for self protection. Sometimes people are just more interesting to me if I see them in the light of being characters, rather than real people and acquaintances. Yes, there is a difference. I’m not sure what it is. And as I think about it, there are very few people whom I look at that way — people I’d as soon not know at all but are just too interesting as characters to walk away from entirely. Not many. In fact, right now I can only think of one.

I met Conjury in 2010 when my wife and I were preparing for our third trip to Burning Man. Our camp was very busy that year, and many summer days and nights were spent at the shop making octahuts and my Lurveseat and improvements to the Lighthouse, and bonding with our friends as you only do while partying and working and sharing sweat and effort.

Conjury was illegally living in her trailer in the storage yard next door. One night she looked over the wall to see a bunch of people making glow-stick shooters and playatech furniture. She could see that they were Burners, because she was one too. She came round to the front and came on in. Being an old-timer herself, she immediately found work to do and had endless skills with which to do it. She helped me with some things on my Lurveseat, among other things.

I’d guess she was about fifty then — I was fifty two — and not bad looking at all. A blonde, nice figure, a face full of expression, quick-witted, and strong sure fingers. Her life, though. She said she was in the storage yard because she was working with an attorney nearby who was going to get her husband out of prison. He’d tried to rob a bank. She didn’t deny that he’d attempted bank robbery. She thought he should be let out, though, because he was a gentle soul, would never hurt anyone — and besides, he didn’t get away with it.

She didn’t come around for very long. In time the owners of the shop mentioned that she was the sort that brought way too much drama. They were more experienced than I in the variety of people that are attracted to Burning Man, and I guess she was not of the more desirable variety. Drama is not a welcome quality, and I think they talked her into staying away.

I saw her again in 2011, at the Burn. I was mayor of our camp that year. She’d been kicked out of her camp — not a terribly uncommon experience, actually — and was angling for a new position. But the shop owners were my campmates and when they saw her, they were quick to pass me, as mayor, the job of telling her no, no way, not a chance. So I did. She took it well and went away.

Couple years later we ran into each other at random in the crowd as the Circle of Regional Effigies were set on fire. She didn’t act like we were long-lost friends. She acted like she knew everybody, and that happened to include me. A stupid argument flared up with a friend of mine, because somebody had stood in somebody’s way, and my friend threatened to punch her. Somehow I sent them away into the night in opposite directions, but I never thought so well about my friend after that. There are people who know her better than me and think less well of people than I tend to do, and it may be that in their minds she deserves distrust and threats. I don’t know, I can’t judge, but ugly behavior is ugly behavior.

I haven’t seen her since then, but Facebook has allowed for the occasional glimpse into her unraveled life. She is a very creative person and can write very well on the rare occasion she wants to. Her writing is usually hard to follow, being hampered by phonescreen keyboards and somewhat disorderly thought progressions. Yet there is message in there. You just have to look between and beyond the lines to see it. Why do I, you might ask. What is it that keeps this distant and damaged person in my consciousness? Here are some thoughts.

Maybe because sometimes her writing seems directed at me, since there are times I’ve left comments as though I’m the only person who’s figured out what she’s saying, and she naturally responds to that.

Maybe because many years ago she was a young dancer in a club on Folsom St. in SF and would engage Hunter S. Thompson in long conversations.

Maybe because she’s now homeless in West Oakland and uses free wifi to post under an assumed name, and I have a soft spot for the homeless and for people who interact on Facebook under assumed names.

Out of the blue last week she sent me a PM. She was headed to Gerlach and asked if I’d like to meet for coffee. I delayed an hour or two — don’t you hate how Facebook PM shows the other person that you’ve seen their message? — and then replied cautiously with Yes. But I’ve heard nothing since. I think she thought I lived in Placerville, and maybe my mentioning that I lived in Sacramento changed something. Or maybe her homeless state, her lack of access to her children, her history of getting everything stolen, the mysteriously hard-hearted comment I saw the designer of the Man Base direct at her, they’re all clues that she’s just not reliable. Y’think?

The Man Base is the Base that the Man is perched on at Burning Man. A very talented artist and architect designs it every year. I sang at his wedding in the shade of the Man in 2014. He wouldn’t know me, but I recognized his name when he commented on one of her woe-is-me posts about the difficult life of living among homeless families in West Oakland to the effect that maybe she should consider a lifestyle change. I thought that was mean until I realized he probably knew her a lot better than I did. Seems a lot of people do, and like her less because of it.

I have a strange affinity for birds with broken wings.

Anyway, the bird hasn’t contacted me and maybe she limped on past, bumming a ride from someone who was going to Placerville and wasn’t going to stop in Sac. Suits me, but I still wonder if I should have said Yes.

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7 thoughts on “In Which I Consider Facing an Endless Train Wreck

  1. I used to hate that “seen message” thing, but not so much anymore. Could be seen briefly in a car at a light, or in a meeting, before you have to pay attention again. While on hold. In line at a store. Etc. Buncha reasons why an immediate response might not be possible. Ppl should understand. I am that “see & run away” person more often than not. Generally I return & reply, but occasionally I forget… because human.

    People do not behave as I wish them to. It used to be hugely upsetting, back in the day. I couldn’t UNDERSTAND why friends didn’t act in (what I considered) a caring way. My ex explained that most friends were not soul mates but buddies of logistical convenience. Car pool moms. Office chat chaps. Neighborhood get togetherers. Etc. When the reason for the meeting was eliminated, so went the “friendship.” The office friend who exchanged SO MUCH HEARTFELT INFO with me disappeared like insubstantial meringue when I changed jobs. She never even returned my call. Poof. Over and over and over again. I found this hard to accept, even though it kept occurring in various ways.

    So, I began to think of them as characters rather than people. Clearly they didn’t think *I* was important enough to continue a “real friendship” with once I wasn’t logicstically convenient. And even people now. I’m suspicious of them. I know some of them are desperately looking for a romantic partner ~ and I know how they are. If they find one, they’ll scale back the friendship activities suddenly and dramatically. I’m going to do it first because I’ve started to become too habituated to doing things with other people. That’s not good for me. I know how to be alone and be OK alone. I can’t lose that. I’ve already stepped back and begun thinking of the peeps in my life (excepting my kids, of course) as somewhat less than real. It’s already happening. I feel it, the disconnect. It’s a good thing.

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  2. Besides, I’ve noticed that the people around me, whom I do consider “friends,” sort of, behave in ways that are definitely thoughtless and uncaring. It’s easy enough to step back and view them as characters. It just seems healthier. If I did run into someone who seemed genuine and caring, I wouldn’t do that, but that doesn’t happen. And I am open to it!

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  3. Dammit. I should have known better than to open the new message. Maybe tomorrow, she says. Hard to get out of Oakland. She’s gotta secure her stuff. “Resend me a phone contact for callin yall.” This’d be great if I was writing an article about, I dunno, the Bay Area’s homeless artist community or something. But I’m not. I’m caring for a house of half a dozen plus, wondering how I’ll carve space for my next career phase, and sort of writing an historical novel. The internet creates endless writing opportunities, but (here’s the secret surprise) it’s a lot of work. And time. And let’s face it, I don’t know what manipulation this person will subconsciously attempt on me. I might look like one of those Burners who wants to live the principles and has the money to do so.

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  4. There’s this–relationships with other people are “sticky.” Relationships endure a certain amount of time due to momentum or convenience, perhaps convention or courtesy, until such time as the situation changes, and if during the time span of the relationship so far, no other adhesive property has emerged, then, one day, *pop* and it’s all kind of awkward maybe with a little guilt thrown in, but no one is too sad.
    I’m just now crawling out of a mindset where every fucking thing in the world was like a novel, so I understand, and I can see how this could be selectively applied to a person, or a specific situation.

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