June 20th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man


To help becka_kitty celebrate her birthday, I rode down to back-end-of-nowhere Sullivan, Missouri with her and we did something I haven't done since the Nixon administration: toured Meramec Caverns. Oddly, from what I can dig up from my memories of having taken this in as part of a school field trip approximately 35 years ago, nothing about the cave tour itself has changed in that whole time. It's not cheap, and it's a long (and exhausting) hike, and for most people I'm not sure how worth it it is, unless you're easily impressed by natural beauty. For me, it was a breath of fresh air because it had ... nothing. I wish it had had more of it.

At the end of one of the branches in the path, the guide told us that he gets frequent requests to turn off all the lights, so with nobody objecting, he did just that. And since (unlike when I took the tour 35 years ago) I was with one guide and 3 other adults, everybody shut up. And I was in bliss. When he turned the lights back on perhaps 30 seconds later, maybe even less, I was wishing that he'd left them off longer. If I had had my comfortable lawn chair with me, I could have sat down there, in silence and darkness and cool but pleasantly humid air (roughly 60°F which is darned cool for me but at least 90% humidity which was compensation enough), for a comfortable half an hour or maybe an hour. And yes, I mean silence. It was in the "dry" part of the cave, so there wasn't even water dripping. And Meramec Caverns is in very porous limestone, so they don't need blowers to keep the air fresh, and the underground river was probably at least an eighth of a mile away from where we were standing. I haven't felt so comfortable in as long as I can remember.

It should have been a clue much earlier that I have an autism-spectrum disorder, but I get over-stimulated very easily. By strong preference, I keep my living space fairly austere and uncluttered. My ex-wife, on the other hand, preferred to live in a space where every square foot of wall was covered with mementos of her life, and I'm convinced that the constant visual "noise" (and her flat unwillingness to compromise on this) was near the top of the list of things that drove me out, because the constant grating on my nerves was making me crazy. Constant steady noises that vanish into the background for the rest of you, like air conditioner hum or tires on distant asphalt, are a persistent and life-long stressor for me. Sure, if I were stuck in total darkness and total silence for anything much longer than an hour, I might get bored with having nothing to do. Or it might take longer than that, because I'd finally be in a comfortable space to get some thinking done. I wasn't kidding when I suggested to the guide that I would pay good money over and above the price of the ticket to be allowed to sit in that room in silence and darkness for half an hour, and that I'm probably not the only one who would; I have no idea (I never do) if he was kidding when he said he'd suggest it to his supervisors.

By contrast, the room they call the Echo Room, the single most acoustically live space I've ever been in in my life, while breathtakingly pretty (a beautiful reflecting pool with pretty lighting highlighting amazingly beautiful calcite and onyx and malachite curtain and stalactite formations), began grating on my nerves long before the rest of the group were ready to move on. It being only four adults and a tour guide, only a handful of sentences were spoken, but every sentence was another injury to my psyche. The reverb in that room was so intense that it was overloading my brain's ability to signal-process, even worse than the (for me, basically impossible) task of trying to follow what one person is saying in a noisy room full of people talking. And that was with just five people in the room. My distant memory of being in that room with 30 other grade schoolers is a partial and incomplete memory of such blinding agony that until we got back there, I couldn't remember anything about the room except the pain.

kukla_tko42, you were wondering what it would be like for me to have more bliss in my life? Here's something I've been reminded gives me bliss: actual darkness, and actual quiet. Any advice on how I can get more of that in my life on my budget?