God I love the opportunity to do something completely out of my comfort zone. Actually, that’s not true at all. I hate it. I absolutely love my comfort zone. Do you know why? Because it’s comforting. And because all of my nice things are in there: preconceived notions, long held grudges, disorganized feelings about the precipitous drop off in writing between Season 1 and Season 2 Netflix shows, etc… All the things I don’t want to change live there in an almost perfect harmony. And so when it’s time to challenge something, I really loathe the experience.
If I don’t have a way to overcome the obvious objection based on some real or expected danger to my person, I have no choice but to try it out. It drives me insane that this is the way I tend to do things. If I can’t see a way around some bullshit problem, then I know that I’m going to have to just go right through the center of it. Shit splatter be damned. It’s the only way I’ve ever learned to get out of my head once I realize that I’m in it. I’ve developed this skill over many years of being frustrated with myself for not doing the thing I was absolutely not desperate to try in the first place. And that’s how I ended up here.
I’m in Cudjoe Key this morning. It’s a perfect 71 degrees. The sun is coming up over the palm trees and I’m in a place affectionately called “Dentures Out”. It’s really known as Venture Out but jesus the people here are who I long to be one day. Crotchety. Suspicious. And most importantly, alive at a seemingly impossible advanced age. My father in law is the king of this behavior. He’s now 68 years old and hasn’t aged a bit in the two decades we’ve been acquainted. It’s a little disgusting but he’s nice enough so I don’t put weird stuff in his coffee. Anymore.
I drove here from my home in the Florida Panhandle. If you don’t know, Florida is an incredibly long state if you drive from one corner to the other. The “Florida as America’s Wang” jokes are tired, I know, and yet, somehow, still funny. And mostly true. But jesus it’s a long drive when you have three kids in the car and one of them took diplomacy lessons from Kim Jong Un. She’s 4. And terrible. And I love her because she reminds me of me and I know that come the revolution she’ll thrive and probably lead the next Robespierre-esq National Convention. She doesn’t yet know what a Guillotine is, but it won’t take her long to make it all come together.
We’re here in the Keys because they’re my happy place. We’re here for a couple reasons but that’s the one outwardly I’d like you to believe. And look, we’re halfway into this journey together. I’m pretty sure you’ve already got an idea or two picked out for why we’re really here. And I’ll cop to it. I got drunk at an auction and decided that I liked the idea of coming to a luxury retreat in the keys for a week. The fine print reads a little differently from the what was promised though. Where they said luxurious boating retreat on the water, what they meant was trailer on the ass end of a canal where the flotsam and jetsam collect to look like a shitty latte lapping up against a Perestroika era sea wall. I don’t mean trailer as in an Airstream like my friend Bob helpfully posited when I texted him to complain about my circumstances. No Bob. An honest-to-god, Hartford, Alabama style trailer in an old folks community 30 minutes away from Key West. It’s sorta like hell, but with the lid blown off and all the fun bits scattered about.
And look, I wish I could tell you this was the first time I had gotten my hand stuck in this particular mouse trap. Last year we bought a similar trip to a place called Little Gasparilla Island which is also in South (ish) Florida. We rented a boat because in my haste to buy the trip before some OTHER drunken fool spent way too much to live in a hole; I didn’t notice that Little Gasparilla Island is an actual island. As in there is no way to get to the island that doesn’t involve floating. And you know what, it was an amazing week with my kids; once we all settled into the idea that we were all probably going to die of scurvy or some other aquatic borne disease of questionable provenance. We didn’t die though. We flourished. The kids learned to be still on a boat. I learned to live without my phone. My wife learned nothing because she’s perfect and had nothing left to learn. (She asked me to put something nice in here about her so I’ve done that now and will entertain no further obligations from her. Unless she does that one thing from Christmas 2008 and then the world is her oyster. Please honey. It’s been a decade. I’m due!)
At the end of the week, my kids all privately took me aside and told me how much fun they had had and how much they wished we could come back and do something similar. I’m kidding of course because these are ungrateful children who deserve the scurvy for all the complaints about lack of cable and/or readily available access to the comforts of home. But we really did have a lovely time. We played board games with abandon. We boated everywhere we wanted to go and grew familiar with the idea that parents most times have no idea what they’re doing and, even worse, sometimes know less than their offspring about how to handle a problem. My favorite memory is of an offhand game of Charades wherein I, as “it” or whatever you call the person who makes a fool of themselves to get the answer guessed, was gesticulating wildly when my wife quite literally and loudly said the word “SHIT” as though it might be helpful to the kids in their guessing. We all stopped for a moment before it settled on us that my wife had guessed shit as a word I was trying to get across to my then 9, 7 and 3 year olds.
What happened next is still a favorite memory of mine. The kids looked at each other conspiratorially, each knowing what the word meant and neither wanting to acknowledge that they understood it to be a naughty word they weren’t allowed to use. My three year old picked her nose like Kim Jong Un and dared us to say anything to her about it. I stood staring blankly at my wife wondering what gesture could have possibly provoked a loud shout of SHIT in front of our children. And then she broke; laughter pealing out of her as tears cascaded down her reddening cheeks. The pent us frustrations of parenting on a literal island and being stuck at least a boat ride away from anything that resembled real life broke through. And she laughed. Hard and long and at herself in a way that she rarely allows. The kids broke next. Each guffawing that their normally reserved Mom had just uttered an, in their world at least, extremely naughty word without hesitation. And finally me who realized that it was probably ok to laugh and she hadn’t just remembered some medication that they kids were supposed to take to avoid developing lice or a deviated septum. And so we laughed. Together as a family for the better part of a quarter hour.
As soon as the laughter would die down, someone else would get the giggles and the entire spiral would begin again. We finally settled down to begin the game again with new resolve and abs that hurt. We got roughly thirty seconds in to the renewed game of charades before my wife again in a fit of hubris and excitement to get the answer right bellowed “SHIT” again. We all dissolved into our own fits of laughter and called it a night. All was right in the world and I was happily adrift on a sea of parental bliss. I had found common ground with my entire family and as it turns out, it begins with dirty words uttered in a loud excited voice by a demure (by my family’s measure at least) woman of a certain age. All that to say that I hoped this year would be a repeat of my mistakes from the year before. If you’re keeping score at home, the answer I was trying to convey was “Shrek”. And look, if I’m being honest, I’m quite literally one tube of green food coloring away from being an exact replica of the title character. So if you’ll pardon me, I’m still trying to get over my wife, not once but twice, pointing an excited finger at me in front of our children and calling me SHIT repeatedly. It’s not that I don’t deserve it, it’s just rude.
I have no idea why I continue to tell you all these stories about me that have nothing to do with health and wellness but god the catharsis is beautiful. Which reminds me of one of the reasons I’m here in the first damn place. I have a good friend. He lives in Los Angeles now. He does not belong there and for a time he was my across the street neighbor and drinking buddy without an equal. Jim and i were inseparable while he lived next door. Mainly because one of us always had a fridge full of beer (almost always him) and we both loved to empty it together while playing guitar and bitching about our jobs. He sold soap or some shit; I don’t really know because I don’t pay attention well. In any event, as the father of three, I am sometimes housebound while my wife goes to yoga or the store or the moon. Again, attention is not my strong suit. As it occured, I was housebound on a particular Wednesday night and I had reached my breaking point with my week and desperately needed a beer or nine. I knew Jim had a beer fridge and that he lived tantalizingly close. I also knew that my then 1 year old would likely burn the house down or start a new republic if I left the house for more than 30 seconds. And so I phoned a friend (Jim) and asked if he wanted to grab a beer. He was in the right frame of mind and said sure. I said great, I’m housebound, want to come over here and we’ll drink on my porch? He again said yes. He never saw the turn. I said great, can you bring some beer with you to my porch? He hung up. I didn’t blame him then and don’t blame him now.
To his credit, he showed up 30 minutes later with a plastic sack of miller lite and what appeared to be an enlarged set of trapezius muscles brought on by the vigorous shaking of his head. And so we drank and talked. Jim at that point was just getting out of a long term marriage and had begun dating a wonderful woman named Shanda. Shanda was present in our home multiple times over the next few years. She was always a bit woo, but we loved her because we understood woo and wanted Jim to be happy. And then, one day she was just gone. She had up and moved to Key West to teach yoga and live a fully endorsed life full of peace. And so, as one does, my wife texted her as we pulled into town to say hello and to ask what yoga classes she might be leading in the coming days. And wouldn’t you know it, the very next night she was leading not yoga, but something called a sound bath. My wife cackled in her seat as we drove down US1 and said guess what you’re doing tomorrow night. I was thinking doing the sex to her. You can see how hope springs eternal in my body. Most hope is wasted. Turns out I was going to have a sound bath.
If you have had a sound bath before, it is a discomforting experience in that you wonder if perhaps you’re the only one not entirely in on the joke. There are several types of bowls scattered around the teacher’s yoga mat. There were at least 15 by my count. Some made of silica, some of metal and some of indeterminate origin. Some metal tuning forks thrown in for good measure and a whole host of eager ernest faces ready for the experience to begin. There’s very little pretense. We’re all about to experience something together. And so it began.
The teacher tells us to let the sound fill us up. That the gentle soundwaves will fill our energy fields and help us come to grips with whatever is bothering us or help us fill up the spaces that need filling. I looked at my wife and she knowingly shook her head that no, in fact, there was nothing on her body that needed filling at the moment and that I should probably concentrate on the experience at hand so that the teacher didn’t think I got turned on by gong sounds. The guy next to me with the ponytail got caught in the middle of the silent marital communication and moved his mat a little farther away in a hurried manner. I don’t blame him. My wife is a heavy breather which I have misinterpreted many times to my detriment and embarrassment.
The sound of the crystal bowls fired up almost immediately. A gentle hum and rhythm enveloped the room and the rest of the participants closed their eyes tight and relaxed into a deep meditative state. I did my best to concentrate on my breathing. Did I mention all three of my kids were with my wife and me while we went through this experience. My older two were present on their mats and frankly, getting into the experience a little more amiably than I was prepared to observe. I’m not raising a bunch of damn hippies. But the now four year old was occupied watching a show on Netflix. Or so I thought. Until she tapped the woman next to me (not my wife) on a mat, pointing to her mother’s phone and whispering authoritatively to “fix it.” The woman looked at her quizzingly and then to me after recognizing the resemblance. The genes run strong on my side of the genetic tree. (O’DOYLE RULES!!!). I fixed my gaze on this poor woman and repeated my daughter’s words. “Fix it!”
That’s actually not true at all. I apologized and fixed the show and sent the tiny terrorist back into her quiet room to watch another show. I was just slipping back into a state of blissful unconsciousness when I felt L’il Osama tap the lady next to me again and even more aggressively say “fix it.” At this point I was mortified and simply left the room to make sure we didn’t interrupt the sound bath again. We settled silently in the back office where there was a chair and couch and LaCroix. We shared a tangerine sparkling water. Which, frankly, tastes like the recipe included showing each can of water a picture of a tangerine once for reference.
But the sounds travelled all over the space. I could hear it while my daughter giggled to herself about whatever she was watching on the phone. It really did fill my head. There were some sounds that were extremely pleasing. There were some sounds that were vaguely disquieting. And then there were some sounds that felt like nails on a chalkboard. But the majority of the experience was really lovely. I didn’t feel any of the sound attack any of my pains. I didn’t feel exactly filled up by the sounds either. And the tuning forks are 100% horseshit. But I did enjoy the experience. And I was relaxed when the experience was complete. And you know what, I met some of the friendliest most open people the island of Key West has to offer. Truly. I was grateful for the experience.
One of the things I’m coming to realize is that these experiences are about letting go. They demand more from you than a casual snide remark and a dismissive sneering side eye. You can do that to be certain. That’s very much my brand. But I remembered earlier in the day watching my wife do yoga on the deck of our trailer next to the shitstain of a canal and thinking that she has the world by the tail when she’s in her flow. Her assured movements force her body in a gentle, graceful rhythm that looks almost serene from the outside. She looks calm and I believe she gets the benefit of quiet in her head.
I long for that most days. I stay stuck in the same channels of internet interaction, emails and phone calls. I very rarely give myself time to just be myself and sit in the quiet. And experience after experience along this very unusual road has led me to believe that whatever works for you, works for you. It really makes no difference at all if it involves crystals or vinyasa or the equivalent experience of sticking your finger in a light socket. I really have enjoyed the faces of the people who have had these experiences with me. They’ve welcomed me in with open arms. And they know me. They know I’m there to poke fun and learn a little. They know I’m not a particularly reserved person who holds his opinions to himself. Better said, they know I’m a butthole. But they continue to open the doors to learning about their passion and they share with me enthusiastically. There’s no reservation in their enthusiasm. And so I’m going to embrace that spirit.
But I’m still not doing the coffee enema. That’s just someone’s version of seeing how much dumb shit they can get some schmuck to do. I’m not that schmuck. Yet.