You know how every non-fiction book in the last three years has been about the author doing one odd, life-disrupting thing for one full year and then writing a book about it? I'm reading one of those books a week for one full year and then writing a book about it. It's My Year Of Everything, and you're soaking in it. CONTACT: Dave Holmesfirstname.lastname@example.org
Jasper Rees is a joy to read, not least due to his almost cartoony Britishness. Living in the UK is one of those things- like business school or mushrooms- that I’ve always wanted to try but am probably too old for now. You never know.
During My Year Of Everything, I’ve found myself drawn to books in which the author spends a year trying to do something (travel, be biblically correct), more than books in which the author spends a year trying to avoid something (shopping, everything). Positive choices are just more interesting. Case in point, my current book “A Devil To Play,” in which Jasper Rees tries to master the French Horn in a year. It’s made me pick up my guitar, and it’s made me wish I knew how to tune it.
And overall, this experience has made me say YES a lot more, if only to have something to write about. I’m 39 now, and NO is one of my favorite words; you have to work pretty hard to make me want to stop hanging out with my dog for even an hour. But YES isn’t going to get easier to say once I enter my 40s, so I’ve been practicing.
Which is my long way of telling you I went to a Burning Man party over the weekend.
I’ve been on the fence about Burning Man for years. Ben and I even bought tickets three years ago, as we were going to a wedding in Lake Tahoe around the same time, and we figured we’d swing through on our way home. We packed the car with our REI tents and a few jugs of water, and we got silent as we approached the fork in the road: to the left was the way to the Playa, to the right the road home.
Simultaneously, we blurted: “I DON’T WANT TO GO TO BURNING MAN OH THANK GOD I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO.” Went home, sold the tickets on Craig’s List in about 45 seconds, and that was that.
But again, I’m 39, so if I’m ever going to do it, now’s the time. Or, you know, now’s within the grace period.
A have a couple of friends who’ve gone for the past few years, and their camp was having a fundraiser in a warehouse in Culver City, because of course they were. They invited me, and I planned to meet them there. The directions were vague; in retrospect, it’s amazing I didn’t have to go to a grocery and buy an egg like Brandon and Emily Valentine on 90210. I wandered alone through the post-production-house district of The Culv until I heard the telltale techno.
Really, folks, the only thing more embarrassing than walking up to a stranger and asking him if his party is the Mystical Misfits Fundraiser is the look on his face when he says NO.
Back on the streets, I encountered a woman in a top hat and followed her to the right place. Paid $15, whereupon a gentleman embraced me. “I’m here to give hugs, man. And I have something just for you. Reach into my coat pocket.” It was, naturally, a poem by Rumi. It said “Please don’t tell my parents.” Just kidding. Something about love or whatever. “Well, thank you for this, sir. Can you point me toward the bar?”
Met up with my friends, one of whom (also Dave) is also a Burning Man novice. Here are some of our observations:
So I’m still undecided. I’m leaning toward following the advice of 13th-century Persian poet and philosopher Rumi, who said: “Just have a party in your backyard, you dumb old homo.”
UPDATE: I use the terms “Burning Man fundraiser” and “rave” interchangeably here, and I suppose they may not technically be the same thing. But here’s the deal: if you’re surrounded by people in long muppet-fur coats, if you see more than one person giving a backrub, if someone is fire-dancing to music that was made on a laptop, you are at a rave. That’s my policy and I made it up ten minutes ago and I’m standing by it.
"A Devil To Play" chronicles author Jasper Rees’ year trying to learn the French Horn well enough to play a solo before the British Horn Society. Good stuff.
Ben and his band The Mighty Regis are about to embark on the Warped Tour, and he just found out he’s getting endorsed by Fender Guitars. He’s been giddily special-ordering guitars, and I’ve been jealous. I want a new guitar! You know, to join my other guitar, sitting forlorn and unplayed in the bedroom.
How I’ve longed to skip over the frustrating learning part and go right to sexily playing!
Learning an instrument is like learning a language, and for me, guitar is Space Japanese. I just can’t make my stupid stubby sausage fingers go where they’re supposed to. Frustrating to the max. I’ve stopped and started a half-dozen times in the last decade.
But you know what? I’m going to take some time out of my busy waiting-for-NBC-to-make-a-decision schedule and learn me some guitar. Enough excuses.
All you need is three chords and the truth, right? How’s about one chord and Wikipedia?
There’s just no real structure to “Sundays In America.” Just as Shea’s itinerary takes her around the country in a scattershot manner (Northampton to Fort Lauderdale to Vegas, for example), the narrative doesn’t move forward. There’s no geographical context to her religious experiences- we never really learn how these churches reflect or contrast to their regions.
The story ends when she leaves each church and doesn’t pick up again until she enters the next, so we don’t get to see how these various experiences are enriching her own spiritual life.
Worst of all, she doesn’t engage with the churchgoers or staff outside of the church service itself, so it’s a little like reviewing movies by watching their trailers.
Because I feel like a terrible, miserable crank panning this book, I will say this: there are a few churches Shea makes me want to visit (there’s a John Coltrane church in San Francisco!), but overall it was like one long Mass without even the possibility of church giggles.
I know I said I was going to share some of the more thought-provoking elements of “Sundays In America,” but I’m not sure there are any.
That sounds harsh, and I feel bad pooh-poohing a book about religion. But she raises a lot of the same points I’ve already gone into here (exclusion in the name of religion, churchgoing out of obligation, etc) and then doesn’t do anything with them. Like: “Oh, it’s a shame that some people just pray by reciting words when they could be deepening their experience by meditating more freely. Anyway, goodbye!” Delve, Suzanne Strempek Shea!
This book is what Christian reformer Martin Luther would call “kind of a snoozeburger.” I cast it from my sight!