So now we come to the part of the year that is the most contentious. At least for me. I have the most contradictory wants, feelings, and thoughts immediately after PSG than any other time throughout the year. Everywhere I look, I see the ads competing for our money, appealing to our desires and vanities, urging us to follow or abandon our personal values. Sounds rather extreme, doesn’t it?
At PSG, everything seems so straightforward. Kind is good, mean is bad. Helping is awesome, ignoring someone’s need is not. Acts of quiet generosity are supreme, while taking from another without permission is loathsome. I don’t pretend that everyone there subscribes to this, but for me, this is how it is. There seems to be no ambiguity in the interpersonal rules when I’m there.
But then I come home. No matter how much I try to maintain those principles and feelings, they fade quickly. Not the underlying values, those are with me always, but more of the ability to follow through. At PSG, there’s very little fear of being taken advantage of. My inclination to help and to accept aren’t based on a barter system of feelings, but rather more of a pure intent. It could be that there is no expectation of repayment when I’m there. I don’t expect anything in return. It’s nice to just do something for someone and know that their day was made a little nicer, easier, less stressful, or just plain better because of some little courtesy I have extended. Not so in the "real world," or Mundania as many PSGers call it.
In Mundania, the overwhelming majority of all kindnesses are performed, by most people, with the full expectation that the kindness will be returned. The young man holds a door open for a pretty girl in hopes that she’ll stop and talk to him. The extra tip to the paper delivery person is in hopes that the paper will, indeed, actually be on the front porch. Few people hold the door open for the young mother with a stroller unless refraining means the door will slam in her face. Almost no one lets the shopper with just a few items go first, especially if the line has been long and the shopper’s cart is full.
Beyond behavior, I’ve found that the dichotomy of values comes more brilliantly to my attention in ads on TV and print, both of which are in short supply at PSG. For example, I was leafing through a More magazine this morning and saw an ad for Birkenstock sandals. I had a pair for 10 years, but they died a sad death last year, so the ad caught my eye. Then I noticed the facing page. A stilletto platform shoe with red and tan leather was pictured, the article entitled "Stylebook: Fashion for Grownups." That’s when this contradiction of wants, feelings, and thoughts really lit up my neurons.
At PSG, we’re earthy, unconcerned (for the most part) with appearance, very concerned with our spirituality and need for community. For more than a thousand people to come together in a small space to camp, drum, dance, sing, and learn as a cohesive family of sorts is an amazing thing. There’s always some that I don’t like very much, some I find very strange, some that find me very strange. There are also people who have become my PSG family, who are new friends, old friends, and friends-to-be. To illustrate some of the characteristics of PSG you need to picture a place where you can lose a wallet with cash in it, and find it turned into lost and found (a cooler left in a public place) with all the cash still there. It’s a place where there are many vendors selling everything from clothing to candles to incense to crystals, but who feel comfortable leaving their shops to attend workshops without worrying about theft. Forget to bring sunscreen? Someone will have extra. Tent developed an unfortunate leak? Ask around – there is always someone who brought an extra "just in case." Having an emotionally difficult time with anything at all? Stop by Psyche’s Grotto, because there is certain to be a certified therapist available to help you get through it, and if not, there is no lack of available shoulders for you to lean on. Want to wear that plaid kilt with a striped shirt you love? That’s cool. Awesome kilt, by the way. Fashion is completely relative at PSG.
Then we all come home. Back to the bills, the sullen neighbors, the grouchy bosses, the massive unpacking and cleanup. That first day back is always a shock to my system, and I almost always end up going to bed early. Tomorrow is just fine for going back to real life. Well, now it’s tomorrow. Real life is cleaning up the house, reviving my poor houseplants, lettings the dogs know that I didn’t leave them forever and that I still loved them. Real life is having my grandchildren over for the day and making jello, watching him play the PS3, and coloring as much of the driveway as possible with her and the sidewalk chalk. It’s making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off, doing laundry, unloading the camper, and mentally preparing for work tomorrow.
That’s when the true dichotomy hits me. As I do all these "day after PSG" things, dressed in my tank top and wrap skirt (hippi clothes, as Micah calls them), I wonder what to wear tomorrow. Makeup or no? Headscarf (this year that was my preferred PSG hairstyle)? Probably not. It’s back to Mundania in the truest sense. PSG equals relaxed, no makeup, no haircolor, letting my gray shine to the world, doing what I want for anyone without worrying it will be taken the wrong way. Work means makeup, "appropriate" clothes, constant worry that my gray hair is holding me back (from what? from where?), and policing my inclination to do random acts of helpfulness in check, lest someone feel obligated to do something for me in return.
It’s like there are two of me. The one is so much more real, genuine, and open. No getting annoyed while driving, no feeling the pressures of time. Cheesecake? Sure! I am still me at 215 pounds, and eating a piece of cheesecake doesn’t alter me in any fundamental or meaningful way. The other me reads articles on "A Better Body With Age: Real Women’s Inspiritn Stories." Worries that the wrap skirt should really wrap a little more, because us fat older women shouldn’t be showing any leg. Stops in the hair dye aisle way too often, torn between that awsome L’Oreale Golden Blond or the Medium Golden Brown that used to be my hair. Feeling late to work when I arrive at 7:40, when 8:00 is the actual start to the day. I yearn for the first me to take over, to kidnap and dispose of the second me. At the same time, I envy the second me – knowing that she is the one the world is more comfortable with. Knowing that the second me is the one who could be 140 pounds of sexy older woman, with perfectly styled Golden Blond hair and fashionable shoes and a pencil skirt. Neither one is really me, though, and I know this.
What I don’t know, is who is the real me? I think I’m part of both – a dichotomy in my own self. I realize that the problem isn’t the wrap skirt vs. the pencil skirt. The problem is in having my values defined by my environment – PSG vs. Mundania. Being true to the women’s libber that was surgically implanted in me in the 60’s, while being forced into the modern world where makeup is queen and a promotion could hang on just the right amount of makeup to be youthful while still looking mature. No one can live happily with that dualality.
Solution? I haven’t got one. My answer has been to keep two separate worlds. My personal space of wrap skirts and birkenstocks takes over at the end of each day ruled by khaki pants and the appropriate application of makeup. I think it’s no wonder that people, especially women, are more anxiety and depression prone than ever before. I think we need a better way. I just don’t know what thay way will look like.
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