I ended my Fourth of July with a few distant bangs perched atop this tree. I NEVER climb trees. Okay, let me rephrase that. I can’t remember the last time I climbed a tree. Here’s the story of how I got there.
It was a pretty crazy marvelous day filled with outside adventures and inner journeys. I woke up at 6 AM to watch my friend Brian run a 10K race out in San Ramon. The early wake-up was a bit painful, but the picturesque drive over; the lively festivities; the poi spinning on the grassy knoll; and ESPECIALLY watching Brian win the race made it all worthwhile. After catching a snooze at home and preparing exactly 39 mushrooms – marinated in garlic, olive oil, and herbs, then roasted, stuffed with cheesy quinoa, and garnished with green olives (they turned out delicious!) – I headed over to the annual Fourth of July party held at a family friend’s lovely North Berkeley abode. My brother calls this the “rich old people’s party”, which is pretty much accurate. Not that there aren’t meaty things on the grill or young people in the mix, but it definitely has an adult vibe. The scenery is gorgeous, the conversations are sober and mature, and the food is certainly more sophisticated than the stuff you’d find at your average Fourth of July barbecue.
Aside from the good food and pleasant atmosphere, I honestly wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy being there, since most of my life and friends are down in LA. Toward the end of the party, I actually ended up having some amazing interactions, including with an old Buddhist teacher of mine – James Baraz—who had led a meditation group I was in when I was 15. That whole conversation is an entry in itself. For now, I’ll just say he imparted some wisdom that shed a whole new light on the way I see myself and aspire to live my life.
That said, I returned from the party at 8 PM in a rather contemplative mood. I didn’t want to stay home all evening, since contemplation can easily turn into workaholism in my world and it was, after all, the Fourth of July. At the same time, I didn’t exactly feel like braving the masses to watch the fireworks. This was a point of inner conflict. I love the ritual of fireworks. I love the spectacle of fireworks. And unless I’m invited to some kick ass party by a friend I really like, I always watch fireworks on the Fourth of July. Up close. In the thick of it. Where you can see every sparkle and hear every bang. It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come around everyday so when it does, I like to seize it. But lately, I’ve been feeling a little more mellow; more introspective; less gung ho about doing all the things that I usually want to do because I can’t get past the idea of wanting to do them.
Ideas are really strong creatures. Really strong. When they’re not yours, they seem rather silly. Think about it. Whenever you hear someone say, “I really like the IDEA of doing this thing, being with this person, etc.,” you think to yourself, “That person probably (by which I mean definitely) needs to ditch that idea.” But when it’s your idea, the feeling is totally different. It grabs you; it possesses you; it puts a filter on the lens through which you see everything. That’s how I feel about fireworks.
At the same time, I have been working on restructuring my thought patterns and routines. I’d also just been imparted some words of wisdom, which included listening to the voice inside myself that knows what I really need. So I said to myself, “Let’s try a little experiment. Let’s NOT do what we do every year come hell or high water, even if it may be super scary to break our routine. The Fourth of July will come again next year and the year after that and the year after that, and we can always do the usual thing next time around.” So I ditched Plan A for Plan Be Spontaneous and headed up into the Berkeley hills to watch the sparks fly from above. I had this idea that I would go to the Lawrence Hall of Science – this kids Museum that has a breathtaking view of pretty much the entire bay. It was the perfect spot in my mind, since it had not only the view of all the fireworks in the Bay Area, but also a decent amount of parking. On top of that, I liked the symbolism of viewing the spectacle from a higher, wider-angle perspective. Direct parallel to the way I was viewing my life. In short, my plan was perfect.
I took Dwight Way from my house up the hill, passing the race track that is a popular lookout point, thinking to myself, “Those people are all scrambling for parking, but I’m going to outsmart them all!” Around Prospect, past the Cal football stadium, ready to make the turn onto the road that would lead me to Lawrence, only to find cones and officers blocking the way. Plan Be Spontaneous: FAIL!!! On to Plan See What Happens Next.
This is where I start to freak out. It’s 9:30 and the fireworks are about to begin, if they haven’t started already. I'm too far to go down to the Marina, which I didn't want to do in the first place. I can't think of anywhere else that isn't going to be jam packed. And wherever I can go, provided I can think of a place in my frazzled state, I'll be lucky to find parking before the show is completely over. Fuck! I should've gone to San Francisco or the Marina and done what I always like to do because now I'm just driving around, missing out on all the fun like the biggest idiot loser I am.
Curtain down on the inner monologue. Long story short, I remembered a park not too far from where I was that had a good view of the bay and was probably not quite as overpopulated as the rest of the lookout points. I was lucky enough to find a parking place nearby and raced out to the park. But it being dark and my memory fuzzy, I'd forgotten that the park was perched on a hill. I passed the park and walked down another hill where a small group of spectators were watching. After a few minutes of partial pyrotechnics obscured by a large tree, I decided to leave. I followed the path up to the park I originally remembered, which has a gazebo that is perfect for viewing. Unfortunately, there were so many people gathered in said gazebo, I couldn't make out almost anything. There were, however, a couple of people perched on the roof. If only I could get up to that roof...
I asked a couple of people how to get on the roof, and they told me you do it by "climbing that tree"; the tree you see at the top of this entry. Despite the fact that I was wearing tractionless boots and hadn't climbed a tree for as long as I could remember, I made my way up before I could give it a second thought. Using my glow poi as a guide, my hands and feet found the proper places to take me to the top (at least enough of the top that I could get a piece of the action). I lingered at my perch for a few moments, reveling in the joy of finally getting to see the dazzling fireworks I'd been hoping to see. I tried finding the footholds that would take me to the rooftop where I could join the elite few with the clearest view, but it was dark, the branches seemed too small, and I didn't have too much faith in my intermediate tree-climbing skills. I've always been one to aim higher than the rest; to reach for the thing that is probably beyond my reach. But I also realize that there's something to be said for doing the careful thing, especially in situations of potential physical danger. (I was particularly wary of this, having known someone my age who recently died after falling from a great height.) So tonight, I said, "I'm happy exactly where I am." True, my view was blocked by a bundle of leaves here and a bundle of leaves there, but the obstructions were minor and they were all on my terms. And I had this cozy, special little solitary nook of my own discovering and my choosing. This is how I want to carve my career. This is how I want to live my life. This is how I want to end my Fourth of July.
After the show was over and I climbed back down the tree – which, before my muscle memory dug out the gymnastics techniques from my youth, resembled the kind of petrified, screeching cat fire fighters groan to fetch – I watched all the little side shows go off on various rooftops around the city. In my life, I'm finding that as dazzling and appealing as the main event might be, it's really all about the small, unexpected, forbidden moments along the way. Don't get me wrong; I'll be thrilled to walk the red carpet at the Oscars. But I treasure the crazy adventures in between -- watching Juliet Landau embody Blanche DuBois at a small theater off Santa Monica Blvd.; hearing my friend Taliesin Jaffee channel Tom Waits/the Cookie Monster in an epic karaoke version of "Roxanne"; making discovery after discovery in a simple Meisner repeat. Speaking of which, my acting teacher James Eckhouse pushes us to make the kind of art where “you don’t know what the fuck is going to happen next”. And being as how art imitates life, I know I have to live the way I want to create. The principle is profound, but here’s the challenge. In order to make those crazy discoveries, in order to get to something entirely unexpected, you have to go through the fear and the floundering; the stalling; the freaking; the teetering moment when you completely let go of the plan. Living in that space is the scary, but it can take you to some pretty trippy places. I never imagined I’d spend the last Fourth of July of my 20s in a tree, but there I was. And somehow, it was exactly where I needed to be.