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Monday, March 20, 2006

Just Add Water?

Joseph Campbell, mythologist and author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, once said that “hell is life drying up.” To him, life is about the individual journey—following your bliss and creating your own path in the world. To ignore the call to adventure or to follow a path that is not your own means stagnation. It is the wasteland.

There is really no way to describe the unease and disharmony—even on the body’s cellular level—of knowing you are off course unless you have felt it. But I would say that “life drying up” is a good start. For me it feels like swimming against the current, like the pull of gravity, like all-out war with your own cellular resistance.

I believe in listening to my body’s own cues—even if it sometimes takes me a while to catch on.

When I was just starting my junior year at college, my body decided I need a break whether I wanted one or not. I had just returned from a semester abroad, and before I even had a chance to feel jet lag, I began the cross-country drive back to school where I had signed up for a full course load (and then some), a writing fellowship and part-time campus job. I was also very close to getting engaged. But less than a month into the semester, I crashed. I was diagnosed with severe mononucleosis and had to withdraw from school and head to New Orleans for some R&R.

I have not experienced another corporeal coup d’état before or since, but I bring it up because now my body doesn’t have to resort to such extreme measures to get my attention. (Knock on wood!)

In the last month or so before I left my job, I began to dread every weekday. At the office, time slowed to a crawl, a very bored crawl. I left work on edge, completely drained and head throbbing. Life drying up.

I berated myself for being so unmotivated and unhappy, and for not being able to make myself turn lemons into lemonade. I tried to make the best of the situation, and do the “responsible thing” and keep the job until I could find something better. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had left my path. I was wasting valuable time, and I was miserable in the meantime.

In contrast, when I finally decided to leave—with no solid prospects—so that I could dedicate all my energy to getting back on track, I felt elated. Scared, but elated. The fog lifted. I was back to my old self again, and it only took me six months to figure it out.

So why am I talking about any of this? Because as bad as it feels to be off-track is as good as it feels to be back. And when you are feeling in flow with life and following your bliss, I believe that heaven and earth respond. Doors open that wouldn’t open for anyone else. Doors open where there were only walls before. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, calls it synchronicity (though I think she got it from Jung), and that’s exactly what I am feeling right about now. My life has officially been rehydrated, and I couldn't be happier.

It’s great to be back!

“A bit of advice given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation: ‘As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.’” Joseph Campbell

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Sisterhood of the Pink Leather Pants

It’s rodeo time again here in Houston, Texas.

That time of year when nearly two million visitors fill Reliant Stadium to see all the barrel-racing, bull-riding, calf-scrambling action of the local rodeo (in fact, the world’s largest livestock show and rodeo since 1932).

Yes, here in Houston, the rodeo is eagerly anticipated by cowboys and non-cowboys alike. I, on the other hand, have always tried to avoid the rodeo or anything resembling a rodeo.

Although born in wilds of Wyoming, I have never really been fascinated with the Old West, the Wild West or any other kind of West, except perhaps for Nine West. Maybe it is the smell of cow pies, but I just never was a rodeo kind of gal.

So imagine my surprise as a Houston newbie when my non-Wrangler wearing friends and coworkers began buzzing with excitement over the approaching cow fest. Why get worked up over pissed-off bulls, pony rides and calf birthing? I just didn’t get it. It must be some sort of wacky Texas aberration (there are plenty, and if you don't believe me, go to Quitaque, Texas).

Don’t get me wrong. I respect Texas’s cowboy legacy. I just don’t want to witness it.

This is before I found out that the rodeo has come a long way since the ropin’ and ridin’ Spanish vagueros of the 1700s. Hell, it’s come a long way since the last time I (almost) came in contact with the Buffalo Bill Cody Stampede Rodeo less than ten years ago. Now it includes gourmet cook-offs and rock concerts in air-conditioned, club-level comfort. This is something I could get into … at least once anyway.

So when I told my grandmother that I was finally going to the Houston rodeo to see a Sheryl Crow concert, she seemed a bit bewildered about what I must mean by “rodeo”—prompting her to reply, “I guess us oldsters don’t know much about what is big with young people anymore.”

It was probably the same kind of bewilderment I felt when I went to what was advertised as a country fair and farmer’s market in Utah that ended up being a just a collection of cell phone-pushing salespeople and a lady selling homemade soap.

Anyway, for Sheryl Crow, I decided to break my rule about rodeos. When she had to cancel her tour last week after being diagnosed with breast cancer, my boyfriend and I decided we would go just the same. So last night we set out with two of our friends for a night of country fun in the middle of the city.

I am not sure that my rodeo experience can be classified as “typical” because, well, Melissa Etheridge was the scheduled Sheryl Crow replacement, and so the female-seeking-female population was probably a little higher than normal. A lot higher than normal. Er, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

And they were all wearing pink because Sheryl and Melissa had asked that concert goers dress pink for breast cancer awareness. So it was quite the spectacle for conservative Texas. Though according to my friends in the corporate suite, conservative Texas is still alive and well because many suites cleared out the moment the concert began.

And they missed a great show. I am not a big Melissa Etheridge fan but wow, she is talented—what a powerful voice. I had a good laugh when she proudly displayed the Texas-size belt buckle engraved with her likeness that was given to her by the rodeo organizers. She even threw in a Janis Joplin song and sang “If It Makes You Happy.” I’ll take that over American Idol any day. (However, I could have done without the annoying chick behind me who thought we were at some sort of Baptist revival and kept yelling, “Preach it, baby” every ten seconds.)

Before the show, my boyfriend and I did manage to catch some of the rodeo antics—wagons races and calf chases—while eating our gourmet burgers and fries in posh club level comfort. Did I mention we were at club level? Though I found that the collective smell of dyed cow hide from all the leather-wearing rodeo goers adversely affected my dining experience. Tasting leather handbag every time you take a bite of burger isn't pleasant, even if it tastes like expensive leather with swiss cheese and guacamole.

We found the people watching far more entertaining that the bull riding. With the pink theme in place, it was like tacky western wear on acid—pink boas on snake-skin cowboy hats, pink leather pants so tight that they looked more like sausage casings and, my personal favorite, manly women in neon pink flannel shirts with matching plastic Crocs.

I may not be part of the cowboy boot-wearing, leather pant sisterhood, but I am beginning to appreciate the annual rodeo ritual. In fact, we’re going again next week to see Maroon 5.

Last night after the concert, while reflecting on the evening over a warm funnel cake, my boyfriend said to me, “Next time, we’ll show up later—just for the concert.”

“Deal,” I said. The rodeo is so much better without the rodeo.