30 Day Posture Challenge

A video with posture exercises crossed my path last month via my facebook feed. After trying the exercising and finding them extremely difficult I decided to finally listen to all my martial arts instructors and to try to get my head in the right place, literally!

The first thing I did was find a few friends to take on a monthly challenge with me, read on for our experiences including a “miracle” exercise that is helping my lower back pain immensely. P.S I am not a DR. or medical practitioner so don’t take any of this as professional advice just my own experiences. P.P.S In some of the photos in this post you will see my nipples, if you have a problem with that, don’t look.

Week 1

The first few days were filled with a lot of research, learning about posture types trying to figure out what is a good posture to begin with and trying out different exercises (see summary at the end)

I realized that correct alignment should come from the feet, where you should have 3 point support structure, toe, little finger and heel all holding the weight equally. With me the small toe doesn’t push the ground at all and that changes the whole center of gravity and moves it forward.

I also learnt about correct alignment of skeleton, having a neutral pelvic not tilting up or down, 2 cm deep curve in lower back when leaning on wall, 4 cm difference in neck, ears should be in line with shoulders and also how dangerous forward head posture could be because as we get older it will effect blood flow to our brain. Here are some video’s I liked.

Diagnostic vids

Types of postures
Correct alignment
Test posture
Dangers of forward head posture

 

On the second day I noticed how much your posture affects your visual input. Sitting in a better posture forced me to change the angle of my eyes too if I wanted to get the same visual input I’m used to falling on my Fovea. I also realized how always being short and looking up using my neck has had an effect on my posture. I’m guessing tall people have the same effect just in reverse.

 

Week 2

All three of us participating in this challenge began to feel the original exercises were getting easier. Ashley was reported decrees in her usual neck pain. On day 13 I was brushing my teeth and thinking how big my boobs look! Then I realized I was standing in a really good posture. In my regular hunched posture my boobs disappeared. I think a lot of this posture comes from when I was growing up and hated having boobs. We weren’t the most diligent bunch, and sometimes exchanged the exercises with a massage or yoga but updating each other via a joint Hackpad, reminded kept us going.

Week 3

I combed through a long Reddit post about good posture, and a few posts recommended foundation training. I was very skeptical when watching the charismatic chiropractor give this Ted talk claiming that all our problems were from sitting and that he has one exercise to fix it all. I did try the exercise though and lo and behold it has been a miracle exercise for me. It lengthens and strengthens the entire back and the next day I didn’t wake up with my chronic lower back. It actually helped me realize what the other exercises were about and do them better. Since then whenever I feel my back start to ‘twinge’ I’ll do this exercise (including morning and night) and it has an amazing affect, activating the strong back muscles that support the spine reducing the pain immediately. This has made me think that perhaps some of the stretches I have been doing weren’t good, even though they provided some immediate relief, I might have been weakening my muscles instead of strengthening them. This is always the big debate about stretches.

I also got a picture of me taken while slacklining and really didn’t like the posture I saw. I looked terrified and frozen which actually was the case. So much of our posture is based on emotional wellbeing.

 

Eran 30 day summary:

I think I am more aware of my posture, in the sense that I think about it more times during the day and try to adjust it.
Sitting in incorrect posture in bed is more painful than it was before the exercises
I think I am standing more straight.
Complete speculation and possibly unrelated – but I feel like I had more positive (more interactions and they were more positive) social interactions with strangers in the last month.

 

Ashley – 30 day summary

I think I should have focused on my lower back posture more. Especially given the focus on posture from the past month, I noticed recently how inflexible my lower back is versus my neck/shoulders. I pretty much exclusively did the #2 exercise for upper back/neck. I found that exercise was quite helpful to my upper back/shoulder posture and felt good, but also found it quite burdensome to do regularly, especially twice a day.

It helped to have the group tracking going on, and i regularly wished we were tracking other things besides the posture stuff, as it helped me keep going. that said i seemed to mostly fall off the band wagon after when i stopped doing the exercises/lost my routine. After that break in the pattern, I seemed to mostly only be able to keep up the prior routine i have in place with yoga, that I rationalized as being equivalent/inclusive of doing “posture exercises”… definitely a rationalization as my neck feels much less good than it was feeling around day 7.  I think in order to really start to improve my posture I’m gonna need to figure out a better way to integrate it into my day rather than just these annoying repetitive exercises I have to do twice a day.

My 30 day summary and before/after pics:

Hopefully I don't have to tell you what's before and what's after

Hopefully I don’t have to tell you what’s before and what’s after

The main outer difference is probably opening of my upper chest, I think my neck and shoulders still need a lot of work.

The inner difference is much less lower back pain, more awareness about posture and the deep realisation (once again) that these changes in habit must come from enjoyment and not just repetitive exercises. I now have a few different variations of exercises (see below) that I play with and include dancing/ kundalini shaking and focus on the “feel good” of the movement. Also doing this thing with friends was awesome and highly recommended. Thanks!

Summary of exercises

Foundation training basic exercise. Helps me more than I could imagine.
use foam roller slowly to open back and relax and some sitting exersizes
The basic exercise we were doing, I was also doing it laying down and sitting instead of standing sometimes
Warming up neck and chin tucks that can be done when sitting http://www.posturecisecrashcourse.com/forward-head-posture?mc_cid=b49d8e1a38&mc_eid=a24c4430d9
Finding movement and alignment in your spine
Hannan somatic stretches I’ve been doing for years on and off
Kundalini shaking
Back mobility exercises I learnt from dancers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coalitions

Lack of sleep and too much small talk influenced me to exit a Saturday brunch party and sit on the sidewalk in San-Francisco, hiding away from the rain that has been drenching the city for a few days.  Barley a minute passed before a homeless woman who looked around my age stood before me. She was holding a piece of cardboard in one hand and a fast-food soda drink in the other.  

“Can I sit?” She asked

“Sure,” I said, making space for her to lay down her cardboard and sit down.

She looked at me intensely for a moment.

“You’re cute that’s why you’re defensive,” she said.

I looked back at her and smiled. “They always want things from the cute ones don’t they?”

She nodded.

“They only want money from me. I inherited 8 million dollars and they took it all from me…” She began falling into her barley cohesive psychotic loop.

I wished her well, excused myself and went back into the building

A Bayesian account of ‘hysteria’ http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/brain/135/11/3495.full.pdf

A Bayesian account of ‘hysteria’
http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/brain/135/11/3495.full.pdf


Human’s are strange creatures, our brains do their best to model incoming sensory information and predict the future. Repeated patterns bind together and turn into priors, into expectations, into ‘meme’s trying to spread their recorded pattern and influence perception with their prediction. Sometimes these memes become too strong and force themselves onto any incoming signal. This can lead to depression, OCD, ‘hysteria’ and even psychosis.  This past year I have been researching this subject with a very practical goal in mind. ‘How can we get opposing memes to get along with each other? How can we create a coalition in the brain that can overcome past traumatic events that lead to over active priors?”  This very intense first weekend in SF has triggered many of these memes and some of them want to be released from this brain and out into the world.

Superheroes

On Friday I went to a unique superhero themed house party.  It began with short science lectures. Then there talks about consent and responsible usage of substances as well as the organizers offering support and suggesting a ‘safe word’ to any who might need it. This was an amazing attempt to create a safe environment. The party was spread across a three story house with many surprises throughout: a sauna,  a hidden tiny room under the stairs with images of eyes stuck on to the walls, some LED art, cuddle spaces and a VR experience, were some of the things I encountered.

Most people were conversing, cuddling, slowly migrating from one room to another to see what recharges they could find.

A messy combination of gene environment interaction shaped the brain that I belong to into something that doesn’t enjoy many of the default things most humans seem to enjoy.  Socializing is boring and tedious, cuddling is too passive. This brain needs massive amounts of novelty and activity to keep these memes busy processing information, otherwise they begin to over process the same signal and the ‘meme’s begin to fight amongst themselves. “We know this,” they will scream with burning sensations beginning to take over.

 

What will recharge you?

That’s the first question I learnt to ask. Allow your brain to create a ‘positive’ prediction of something that enough memes can participate in.

For my brain one of the defaults is movement. A massive part of your brain is devoted to predict and create movement. As long as there is enough space to allow these memes to do what they do, move the body, feel the body, expand their learnt patterns, there is enough of a ‘positive’ coalition.


At this party for instance, almost no one was dancing so the whole dance floor was free for me to start rolling/ crawling/ dancing.

Then a strange thing happened, one person sat down and began watching me, and then another and another.

Another strange quirk of fate probably due to growing up in a religious environment that was perceived as a danger, mostly allows my brain to shut down the weak incoming social signals. There are very few ‘memes’ that model what others think of me and even fewer that care.

“Do I need something from them?”

“Can they hurt me in anyway?”

“Do they want to take away my autonomy and agency, enslave me to their needs and inforce their memes into me?”

My brain does not look for social approval, love, or attention from outside sources, only for physical safety and freedom. ‘Will they let me do what I want to do?’

sketch

Some sketches drawn at the party when I got bored.

If this safety is judged not to exist my brain will enter ‘self- preservation mode’. Many memes have been specialized for just this occasion, Retreat if possible. If not, ‘maintain’ high borders, expect nothing good from anyone, show no vulnerability, activate language center to provide loads of information to overstimulate opponents, maintain physical distance if needed. If this does not result in actual physical altercation which many of these memes actually enjoy. If there is just this constant stress of an unsafe environment this will quickly wake up what I have come to call ‘the opposition’,  memes that early on in life came up with what might have been a brilliant survival tactic back then to help the brain lower anxiety. “Destruction“ as a means to maintain some level of structural integrity.  “We want to destroy everything and die” they will scream.

Interestingly I’ve noticed that when deciding if this is a safe space or not my brain seems to model not only my safety but the safety of others. I don’t think this comes from altruistic reasons just practical ones. “If others don’t feel safe, they might know something that I don’t”.

If on the other hand the environment is judged as safe then the meme “Can we play together?” will appear. And this is what happened at the party. I began playing and improvising with the small crowd until another person joined the dance. He was not a professional dancer but we explored possibilities together and at least for part of the dance entered a shared state, a mutual growth function were we both wanted the same thing. Then my brain began picking up signals, was he trying to impress me? Was he trying to lead the dance to a more sexual place? This might have been my over sensitive priors but what came out was a little improvised “Macho” dancing, my body movement becoming extremely dominate and ‘male’ like. The crowd burst out laughing and clapping and that ended the dance.

I’ve wrote a more about safe space, expectation and improvisation in the post about burning man called  “adventure mode”.  The basic idea is to create an environment of plenty and that has to start with ‘radicle self-reliance’. It is this coalition’s opinion that only when you (mostly) do not need others for your happiness, only when there is a coalition that is able to look inwards and self-recharge can there begin to be a group coalition that looks out for each other without creating co-dependent situations.

The last few months I've been creating a gratitude wall. a little art piece or something I collected that reflect something I'm grateful for

The last few months I’ve been creating a gratitude wall. a little art piece or something I collected that reflect something I’m grateful for

The last few days I’ve been asking people here what recharges them? I was surprised that most answers were about outside goals: a lot of ‘making the world a better place’ in different forms. From my perspective that has to do with spreading your memes ‘outwards’ instead of developing them inwards and this is likely to lead to even bigger conflict and neediness from the outside world to accept your contribution.

So how about being egotistical for a second (or a lifetime), filling your cup before you fill others?

Here is a partial list of the recharges I have come up with throughout my lifetime that require no other human and are legal J (in no specific order):

Dancing, sketching, making strange art, looking at the mirror, hot showers, learning new things about the brain I belong to, Climbing, punching my punching bag, creating and participating in my own behavioral experiment (even if they don’t teach me anything), reading, writing, reading what I write. masturbating, eating novel (tasty) food, watching bad superhero tv shows and imagining my own scripts that would make them way better, staring and noisy patterns and allowing my brain to impose shapes and figures on them, eating chocolate, being topless, creating my gratitude wall, searching for more self-recharges 😉

“It wasn’t a “battle” it was just life”, A dying atheist wrote in her last message to her loved ones. The brain I belong to has managed to build a coalition strong enough to try to imprint this meme. Life might have many battles in it, both internal and external, much of my life has been spent fighting them. Now, it would seem, it’s time to start building coalitions. Both within my own brain and among others I wish to share my life with.

 

Decompress

The Dutch decompression was a great reminder of the recharges burning man offers, adventures, improvisation, beyond random encounters and gifts, learning new skills, deepening connections and insights into my brain and society. Read on.

By now I’ve learnt enough about burning man to have some ideas how to maximise opportunities in this community by coming prepared. I had the beautiful LED boa Shlomo made me, some parts of my Halloween costume, some left-over mood badges and some chocolate, all of which came into play at some point in the long night.

Play Time

Choose: my makeshift costume and impro game.

Choose: my makeshift costume and impro game.

Waiting on line I began using my mood badges to entertain people (mostly myself). After entering, I was inspired by some of the art, and upgraded myself into an interactive installation/impro game. I wrote CHOOSE on my stomach and attached 2 different mood badges to my scarf. “Flirt with me” and “Teach me stuff”. I then either positioned myself as a sculpture in various corners or danced around, luring people into my game. The sad part was that every male that chose “flirt with me” (not all of them did) proceeded to try to ‘take control’, touch me and be overly aggressive. Without meaning for it I found myself giving some feminist education. The only good “flirt” was from a beautiful older woman, who proceeded to dance with me. She patiently played with the distance between us and made lots of sexy eye contact, and simply enjoyed the dancing. I contemplated whether I was being a “tease”?  I realised many men are so starved for affection/sex/intimacy/touch, that they aren’t able to enjoy what there is to enjoy without being frustrated and wanting the whole package. I too got to practice this skill myself as I was there with a woman I’ve had a crush on for a while. I had every intention of making sure she doesn’t feel uncomfortable so while dancing and ‘flirting’ I just asked her about her borders. She admitted that she really likes flirting, dancing and even cuddling with me but didn’t want anything to get sexual. Agreeing upon borders made everything more simple and I could just let go of ‘wanting more’ and enjoy whatever she enjoyed too. This brought me to my realisation that “the person who wants more out of a relationship, sexual or other, should let the person who wants less to take the lead.”

Circles

Patrick playing with fire (from his FB page)

First I met a fire poi master Patrick van Baarle, whom I met once before at a house party, which made me feel like I know local Dutch people. At the end of the night I got an amazing lesson from him which made me believe I might be able to acquire this skill with a little (a lot) of practice. I had to stop after hitting my knee and limping around.

Then I met Mephy. Mephy was the first intro I had to burning man culture, she was my ride to the New Zealand burn. I hovered around her cool LED dome until she appeared. It was amazing to realize how much we have both changed and grown since then.

I also saw this guy I recognized, from the European leadership burn party. Back then he and this women I saw him with reminded of what Shlomo and I might be 10 years from now and I had managed to conjure a whole imagined story about them. This time I actually had the guts to speak with him. Turns out even back then she was his Ex, someone who things didn’t work out with. He now had a new girlfriend and they didn’t seem to be poly. I was slightly disappointed but consoled myself with the thought that my reality is better that anything I could imagine.

Then towards the end of the party this woman passed me by. I did a double take to look at her again because I couldn’t believe what my brain was telling me. She was there with a guy I recognised too, he was wearing glasses and they were both dressed but I was pretty sure they were the couple I played with at burning man in the orgy dome. So I went up to them and said, “This might sound crazy but I think I had sex with you guys in the orgy dome?” The woman looked at me and said, “That’s an interesting conversational starter instead of talking about the weather.” She paused for a second before continuing “But yes, we had sex!” all three of us burst out laughing and group hugged. It was great to feel slutty again even though I had only platonic interactions at the party!

The best MOOP ever

A rubber hand!

A rubber hand!

I was sitting on the couch when I found a rubber hand which made me jump up in excitement. This might come as a surprise unless you’ve heard me go on about the rubber hand experiment. This is one of the basic experiments in neuro science that shows how easy it is to trick your brain into wrong predictions based on correlating information. You put a rubber hand on the table and your hand is under the table. The rubber hand is stimulated in the same places and frequency as your hand and after a few moments your brain will model the rubber hand as ‘your hand’. I have been itching to conduct this experiment on myself and others and finally I had a chance! It was a very cool sensation as if your hand has been teleported to a few centimetres from where it actually is.

The sad ending

At the bus, me and my friends were discussing whether this party was a safe environment for women when another woman joined the conversation and told us of unwanted touches she had to deal with on the dance floor. The party was a disappointment in that respect, yes I could go topless without anyone calling the police, but this male hunger was in the air – something I personally never felt at the burn itself and think arises from non-burners coming to this party too. I keep thinking what the burning man community should do to provide a safer environment for women in these type of parties? Suggestions?

We Are Whatever This Is

This is a story of reality surpassing a dream. This is a story of four unique individuals coming together for a weekend to create their little rational hippy heaven, a place of fluidity, of abundance, of caring and sharing. This is a story about the magic of being poly. This is also a story which involves my boobs getting in trouble with the police yet again. Read on

Very rarely will I write about something so private, yet something in this experience deserves to be exposed to the world.  I am not writing this ‘to make the world a better place’, I have no doubt most people will probably think this story is perverted.  I’m writing this for the sake of the story itself. I hope I do it justice.

The Characters

Kat, Van, me and Shlomo, in no particular order

Around an hour after I met Kat for the first time we were in the middle of an amazing threesome with a guy I had a special relationship with. He noticed her on OKC and thought we would be a good match. We were. Kat has this intimacy super power, she makes even slightly autistic people like me feel safe and cared for. She’s usually quiet but has an exquisite sense of humor. She’s extremely bright and we have lots of shared intellectual interests, and yes, she’s beyond amazing in bed. I can get lost in her smile and her eyes for hours at a time.

A few weeks later Kat introduced me to Van, her poly partner who she lives with. Van’s brain has one of the largest data sets I’ve ever encountered. He always has some neat fact or almost unbelievable story to make reality a little less mundane. He seems free from any hints of possessiveness towards Kat. He’s a psychonaut like me and also makes really creative and interesting visual art work. He also loves cooking. Yes, we had a threesome too but both of them also offered me so much more than sex. I got a ton of support when my grandmother died last month. They also introduced me to their poly friends in a Halloween party and for the first time in my life I felt like I could almost belong to a community.

The fourth person to add to this unique mix is Shlomo who came to visit me from SF. I could probably write a book about the past year I’ve had with him and what he means to me. He’s the first partner I’ve had that not only accepts me the way I am, but actually enjoys all of my strangeness. He was poly before I met him and he’s the one who patiently taught me what intimacy is. His ‘rational hippy’ outlook along with his super plastic brain has made me reevaluate and change some of the basic axioms in my life.

None of us like these primary/secondary definition that can be found in the poly world instead I’ve begun to use the term, lifelong connection.

 

The Intro

Shlomo and Kat connecting, in reality they were way more beautiful but you try drawing moving people.

Shlomo and Kat connecting, in reality they were way more beautiful but you try drawing moving people.

The shared weekend started with some amount of awkwardness. We had dinner in a restaurant and chatted. Kat and Shlomo’s shyness was floating around in the air while the two men had an almost immediate connection. They were sharing stories, knowledge, hobbies and also past heartache. They were becoming friends and bonding. I realized how lacking male friendship is in the world, how competing for sex and love keeps them isolated from each other. One of the most amazing moments of the whole weekend was the two men exchanging recipes and talking about making sauerkraut while me and Kat were making out on the couch. “What car do you have?” Kat asked me trying to reverse the gender roles even further.

Freedom

I’m not very good with chit chat and a lot of words, I mostly have to be doing stuff, moving around and being very physically active. But instead of getting swallowed by this group I realized I had the freedom to do anything I wanted. This was a safe space; I could detach from the rest and go into my own world, dance, draw or just head out and separate, go to my own adventures. Upon returning I was happily accepted and stories were shared.  When you are only two people you can either be together or apart, in this group the options grew to 7 different social configurations I could find myself in. This resulted in a type of extra stability, a lot more freedom and less stress when making decisions about daily activities. I knew I could go to a movement class without Shlomo feeling left out or bored. He found it easy to decline my offer to join the class and instead do what he knew would be more recharging for him probably also because Van and Kat didn’t view us as a couple that had to be stuck together. Whatever each of us could give to the social structures was happily accepted and whenever anyone needed time alone they just took it. Van later told me that he didn’t have to put up any sort of façade, which is what we all felt. It definitely helped that Van’s alone recharging time is cooking! He provided us with delicious meals throughout the weekend.

Healing

The past year all of us have been through ‘polyagony’ as Kat calls it, this special case of relationship pain that can only happen in poly situations. Both Van and Shlomo’s other relationships were difficult and ended in breakups. Both me and Kat shared this feeling of seeing a loved one hurt and not being able to do much to help him. Both me and Kat felt hurt and angry at the ‘other women’ who we only wanted the best for, someone we considered a friend who hadn’t seen us in the same way. These new connections forming between all of us, these honest and open communications, were a breath of fresh air for all of us.
The most healing moment for me was when I was trying to sketch one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnesses. Shlomo and Kat were standing, gently touching and kissing, looking into each other’s eyes. I felt so privileged to be able to witness their connection forming. Suddenly a twinge of past fear popped into my brain. I had seen Shlomo like this before and I had seen how he was hurt by this other woman he fell in love with. Then this overwhelming sense of relief rushed through me. Kat would not hurt Shlomo, she would not want him to be something that he isn’t. His heart was in good hands and so was mine. It was even a bigger privilege to be able to share this thought with them as it appeared and to communicate it with Van later on.

Sex

I’m guessing this is the reason most of you are reading this blog.  Well this is more or less what happened. On the second night together I was making out with Kat and feeling all this tension from the guys not knowing what to do. So I just broke it by flat out asking “so what are the rules?” Kat communicated her safe sex rule, I told everyone I’m the only one who takes off my underwear and finally things could get interesting.
After trying to make out all four of us on the couch we decided to move to the bedroom where the best porn movie I have ever seen took place and you aren’t going to get the details. All I’m going to say is that all of us were maximizing group pleasure, being there for each other in the most intimate ways.  At one point we were all tired out, on the verge of falling asleep when I had to open my big mouth and ask “Wait, nobody actually had an orgasm right?” A bunch of no’s followed and then a rekindling of activity until each of us exploded.
Since I don’t really regard my privacy I don’t mind telling you about my orgasm. Three sets of hands, mouths and beautiful bodies focused for a while just on me. In any other situation I can imagine that would have freaked me out, but here there was no pressure for me to come or to perform. I could just let go and see what happens. Then, somewhere deep in my brain a key turned and a draw opened, it was called release. I was told it ended with my eyes rolling back in their sockets looking like a scene from the exorcist.
“You know what they say, it takes a village,” Shlomo said when I had quieted down, cracking everybody up. For me his joke holds more than a grain of truth as I’m pretty sure that speaking from an evolutionary point of view, group sex was a big part of our ancestors life, just like bonobo monkeys. I’m also pretty sure that what I experienced is just the tip of the iceberg.

Police

So on our last night Van was showing us some of his bondage skills, tying up Kat. Then I tried to improvise with the rest of the rope, tying myself to Kat, then tying Shlomo to Kat. We were all having a good laugh with some sexy moments when suddenly the police came knocking. Van and Kat had just moved in to their apartment and there were no curtains in the living room and one of the neighbors must have been spying on us from the building across the court yard and called the police. I was about to blow a valve.  Here I was in the ‘liberal’ Netherlands, in a private apartment being told to put my clothing on because some religious freaks didn’t like what they saw. I’ll admit I don’t know it was religious freaks but statistics is on my side as the neighborhood is a very Muslim one. I introduced myself as an ex police women from Israel and wanted to know what law we were breaking. The policeman seemed amused by the whole situation and admitted we weren’t breaking any law and mumbled something about the neighbors complaining and kids being able to watch. “Then how about you tell those neighbors to put curtains on and take care of their kids?” I growled. My militant attitude wasn’t really helping the rest of the group who were just trying to get this situation over with and not pick a fight. The policewoman was on an especially annoying power trip, fully immersed in the role the patriarchic heteronormative organization had made for her. Shlomo was the only one without a Dutch ID so she was grilling him. “Is he your boyfriend?” she asked me. “Well,” I shrugged and rolled my eyes at her, “We are whatever this is.”
When these criminals posing as police left (they did not ask permission to enter the house and had no probable cause to do so), we all cuddled each other and told enough jokes until everyone was feeling better again. But the truth is it hurts to know that something so beautiful and innocent and healthy is regarded by mainstream society as warped, deviant, dangerous or sick.

Just the beginning

For me this weekend was a glimpse into what I have always dreamed of but never actually got a taste of. A tribe of unique individuals, staying away from co-dependency but coming together to explore together and learn from each other, to provide a safety net from the harsh outside world. Yes, the taste was delicious and nourishing and left all of us hoping for more.

Beyond binary

An activity packed weekend is making me reconsider the title I gave Nijmegen, as the most suburban boring town. Read on to hear about a queer festival,  psi-trance party, and sex and relationship meetup that all happened this weekend.

Beyond binary bathroms

Beyond binary bathroms

I’ve finally started to makes some interesting connections and through them I got invited to these three events. The queer festival, called beyond binary was an all-day event with lectures and workshops organized by a transgender group. I tried choosing the more activity related workshops to avoid the language barrier since I was the only one of the hundred or so people that didn’t speak any Dutch. So I went to a fake ‘Tantra’ class, I say fake because it had nothing to do with Tantra but was still amusing. We took turns in a four hand tickle/massage with lots of strange toys and fabrics, while we were sprayed by water, and strange smells and food shoved into our mouth.

A Bondage show

A Bondage show

Next I tried a queer tango, were we took turns switching leader and follower. I know some of you really like tango, but for the life of me I don’t see the point in dancing something that resembles a military march more than anything else. There are too many rules and regulations for me! You can only move about the room in one direction, can’t over pass people, and try not to twirl or have too much fun, were the instructions we got.

20151010_201836I also joined a Polyamorous group discussion, and discovered I wasn’t the only poly person in town, there were at least 5 other people in my age group that were all part of a poly family. And finally I joined a bondage workshop and learnt how to tie some cool knots!

All in all it was really well organized and a lot of fun. And they also had many information based lectures for instance on transsexual health issues.

That same night I dragged myself to an old factory at the edge of town to a really big party that was actually quite good. The sound system was decent and the lighting and art were really cool.

cupofteaThen somehow, and really don’t ask me how, the next morning I dragged myself to a sex and relationship, meetup group that included the most amazing vegan brunch for 5 euros. I think I was the only new comer in that small group of maybe 10 people. After eating and chatting one of the women read a beautiful piece about how hard it is to be honest and open when you like someone and that was an opening for a very intimate honest talk about everything, from insecurities, inability to give/receive compliments, social norms, gender issues, raising children, shaving body hair and the brain (yes that latter was mostly me spreading my brain memes). It was an extremely healthy discussion, the type of which should be held in schools and social groups everywhere… and it’s going to happen again every second Sunday of the month (8th of nov is next) so if you are around you should join: check out their website or Facebook.

So basically come visit me in Nijmegen it’s not all that boring (sometimes).

 

Lucy In The Sky With Scientists

I was fortunate enough to attend a psychedelics seminar that presented the results of the first ever fMRI study that investigated what happens to the human brain on LSD. Read on to explore the science, my theories and as always the anthropological experience.

The conference

The conference

This was not a typical scientific seminar, there were almost no ‘professionals’ attending yet the conference hall was packed with around 150 people that were really excited, which is a rare case for university seminars. These people actually paid to support the study in what is possibly the largest crowd funding scientific experiment to date (the money side was head by WALACEA a site trying to democratize science).

The 'Self' network trying to predict the 'meme' machine we are made of.

The ‘Self’ network trying to predict the ‘meme’ machine we are made of.

I arrived early and used the time to conduct an informal survey. Most of the people were there because psychedelics had helped them or loved ones. Many of them had been following the media divulging very positive results regarding psychedelics experimental treatment for anything from alcoholism to the fear of death in those terminally ill. ‘My dad had terminal cancer and from what I read I wish he had access to psychedelic treatment’, one women told me and I found myself sharing with her and others my limited knowledge.
Psychedelics will reveal the scaffolding ‘you’ are really made of.  The various networks that are creating a meme machine that is constantly connecting “cause” and “effect”, trying to predict the sensory inputs, will be exposed. These networks know nothing about permanence, they are in constant change being turned on and off according to environmental influence. It is only the higher level “self “ that has created an inaccurate model of permanence. This ‘self’ is just a network that links the other networks together trying to predict (and thus influence) the behavior of the whole organism, as well as other organisms (if you are interested you can read more in my neuro-philosophy paper). Once this specific network is destabilized and reality is experienced without it, a familiar sensation takes over, we have all felt it as young children before we had a “self” and if we are perceptive enough we get a slight glimpse of it every night for a brief moment before we fall asleep. If experienced in the right environment there is only wonder and openness in this state of being.

 

Some Background

Amanda fielding from the Beckley foundation for consciousness and drug policy research, which has been supporting this research, told a tale from her personal history. When psychedelics were still legal, they had a massive impact on her life, and she began working on the connection between consciousness states and blood flow to the brain way before fMRI was everywhere.

Prof David Nut, used his exquisite British wit and love of Aldous Huxley to delved into the idiocy of policy makers when it comes to drug research.  “Orthodoxy is the diehard of the world of thought. It learns not, neither can it forget.” – he quoted Huxley hoping that after 50 years of spewing blatant lies policy makers will start looking at the science that shows the massive positive impact  psychedelics can have and indeed have had on most pre-Christian cultures.

The results in a nutshell
With great clarity and a tad of British shyness Dr Robin Carhart-Harris presented his experiment and preliminary results to the mostly no- scientific crowd. 20 healthy subject with previous experience with psychedelics (16 m 4 f) received 75 mcg of lsd intravenously (which gives a stronger affect that digesting it. This was chosen because of the extremely expensive price of 3000 pounds! for a dose of ‘legal’ LSD from a lab in Switzerland). They were scanned in an fMRI machine while resting and then also listened to music in an experiment designed by Mendel Kaelen.

The 'normal' brain on the left (few controlled high ways) and the brain on Psilocybin (many new roads open), a graphics based on fMRI functional connectivity data.

The ‘normal’ brain on the left (few controlled high ways) and the brain on Psilocybin (many new roads open), a graphics based on fMRI functional connectivity data.

I’m going to start with a metaphor that wasn’t used and is a little wider than what can totally be proven but I’ll show some evidence to support it and suggest some more experiments that can be done to test it so bear with me. Imagine your brain is a city with many neighborhoods each of them with its distinctive characteristic and function in the city. There is the stressed financial district dealing with money, soho with its art and hipsters, the industrial area with all the factories and down town with its restaurants. In order for the city to function these different areas have to communicate with each other and pass information and goods between them. To do that, imagine these neighborhoods were connected by highways but not everyone could get on these high ways. There were tolls and  these highways were highly regulated by a central government that decided what has to go where. Then, imagine one day the toll company went on strike and these highways were closed down. What would happen?

At first each neighborhood would be less influenced and constrained by the others and could have more freedom in managing its activity. But for the city to still keep running some information would need to be shared and collaborated so the back roads would start getting used and new roads would start to be built, these roads wouldn’t be as regulated at the high ways so some soho artists could go to the financial district and start painting the buildings even if they weren’t asked to while some accountants and lawyers could go downtown to have a good time.

psy2In this metaphor the people are the electrical brain activity, the neighbourhoods are the specialized networks that deal with specific types of information and the. The 5ht2a serotonin receptors in your brain sit at critical nodes constricting information flow, performing the function of a “Toll”. Lsd and psilocybin over stimulate these receptors and the ‘toll company’ goes on strike.

Carhart-Harris uses the term The Entropic Brain Hypothesis to outline his theory that claims that the brain in in a high entropic state with a higher disorder and more flexibility while on psychedelics.

How is this seen in brain imaging?

Passive eyes closed resting state fMRI scan Psilocybin decreases BOLD signals in DFM and decouples them. (R. L. Carhart-Harris et al., 2012; 2013)

Passive eyes closed resting state fMRI scan
Psilocybin decreases BOLD signals in DFM and decouples them. Similar results found for LSD.
(R. L. Carhart-Harris et al., 2012; 2013)

It turns out that this ‘toll company’ is actually responsible for a lot of the brain activity, and the main results seen in fMRI for both LSD and psilocybin is less blood flow in these critical areas of the brain. Especially in the Default Mode Network that deals with ‘self-memories’ and according to Carhart fits well with Fraud’s notion of ego (and my idea of a self being a model that predicts the organism’s behavior)

MEG data showing decrease in brain wave activity (Muthukumaraswamy et al., 2013)

MEG data showing decrease in brain wave activity (Muthukumaraswamy et al., 2013)

Now when you look at what’s left of the blood flow you see that the correlations between areas grow representing this higher degree of connectivity and when looking as close by areas the blood flow becomes less homogeneous.

MEG results for LSD weren’t presented yet, but a previous paper (Muthukumaraswamy et al., 2013) showed that decrease in activity of brain waves each, bandwidth decreasing in a different area.

One  surprising result in which LSD was different from psilocybin was that LSD increased blood flow to the visual areas while psilocybin didn’t. Carhart postulated that this might be because of the different time line of the drugs, the psilocybin when administered intravenously takes affect very fast while LSD doesn’t and the timing of the scan might show a specific phase of the drug. I would be very interested in getting the exact details of the experiment and comparing them, to see if there were any other changes in the experiment design that could explain this, some environmental influence that would activate the visual area in the LSD experiment more than it did in the psilocybin one.

Predictive Coding and my dream thesis

If you’ve been following my latest blog post you’ve already heard of predictive coding. The predictive coding framework claims that in essence the brain is a prediction machine, it tries to predict it’s sensory input to form a model of the environment (including itself). Predictive coding explains that the cognitive system is ordered hierarchically, in levels (Bastos et al., 2012). For any pair of levels, the higher-level will have hypotheses predicting the bottom–up signals from lower-levels. If the predictions are good, the bottom–up signals will be ‘explained away’. Only discrepancies between the winning prediction and the bottom–up signal remain as ‘prediction error’. This framework explains that sensory information is processed probabilistically, with prior predictions and posterior inferences made based on Bayesian optimized probabilities.

Google deep dream.  10-30 stacked layers of artificial neurons. Allowing a layer to become over active will produce "hallucinations".

Google deep dream.
10-30 stacked layers of artificial neurons. Allowing a layer to become over active will produce “hallucinations”.

Since psychedelics seem to change the flow of information represented in the brain this framework can be a great model to help explain what is actually going on. Within the predictive coding framework I would postulate that Priors coming from the Default Mode Network aren’t passed to other networks and become less important in explaining away the bottom up sensory information. This will cause an increase in prediction error in lower levels of the brain. To deal with this, these lower levels will have to update their model more frequently without the constraint from higher layer priors.  This can explain the visual hallucinations and the subjective experience of heightened senses, more vivid colours, sounds, taste and touch. The tree is perceived as greener because higher layer abstract prediction saying ‘yeah, it’s green, we’ve seen this a million times’ can’t reach the lower layer and turn off the incoming data. Furthermore subjective reports claim that hallucinations start out as just variations of a noisy signal, like clouds shifting and morphing, but after a few second of maintaining the same visual input a very vivid totally unrelated image might appear. This can be explained by accumulation of “prediction error” that finally makes it’s way through some back road and connect with some higher level network which suddenly explains away the prediction error with wrong higher level priors. This can also explain “trippy repetitive thoughts” because higher layer abstract networks can also be triggered in certain cases and hyper activated.

In other words Prediction error that gets into a network will be ‘overly explained” within that network which is released from it’s normal constrains  This is exactly what is seen in Google deep dreams artificial neuron network. Neural networks trained to discriminate between different images can generate images too by inverting them (Mahendran & Vedaldi, 2014) and letting  a layer enhance what it has ‘found’ causes very trippy images to be produced. Indeed, Cartheit mentioned that he believes something very similar is happening to the brain on psychedelics.

Forward vs backwards connections -  Granger causality  (Zheng & Colgin, 2015)

Forward vs backwards connections –
Granger causality
(Zheng & Colgin, 2015)

Psychedelic Treatments

Psychedelic treatment for addictions and post trauma are getting amazing result (see ref at the end).  My speculative theory is that traumatic memories or addictive behavior are usually stored in the ‘worst neighborhoods’ isolated from the rest of the brain activity but still have managed to get enough access to the “tolls” and send out their predictions to the rest of the brain, effecting the general mood and behavior.  While on psychedelics other networks that are being activated have an opportunity to reach that bad neighborhood and renovate it, add some color, good food or financial maintenance. This does work both ways however which is why the right “set and setting are crucial” and why Psychedelics should be treated with the utter most respect and care. There are many reports out the of a bad trip having long term and even permanent results on people.

My dream thesis

Recent papers have found that slow brain waves (alpha and beta) correspond with top down activity and expectations the brain creates while gamma activity corresponds to bottom up activity. They did this by using MEG data and performing a Granger causality analysis that can assess what signal is more likely to cause the other signal. I believe that comparing this type of analysis on the brains of people that have ingested psychedelics will allow us to characterize the different flow of information and possibly prove this theory. Specifically I would expect to see a lower Ganger causality in the Alpha bands coming from higher levels of the hierarchy to lower levels showing the decreased effect of the higher level priors. While within lower close by areas I would expect to see higher Granger causality in the Alpha band (if MEG is accurate enough to source locate close enough areas). And perhaps it would even be possible to locate areas that have a higher Gamma band Granger causality than usual because prediction error has been rerouted through them.

Short Summary 

Couldn't resist being a fan and asked Carhart-Harris for a photo

Couldn’t resist being a fan and asked Carhart-Harris for a photo

The science of psychedelics is finally starting to develop after years of being blocked by political reasons. Understanding how these substances affect us has the potential not only to teach us about ourselves but also to help treat some of the 21st centuries biggest problems. We really shouldn’t let closed mindedness stop the progress of this field, so how about sharing these thoughts with some friends or colleague?

___________

Psilocybin showing success in treatment of addictions and OCD:

•Alcohol addiction: abstinence increased significantly. Gains were largely maintained at follow-up of 36 weeks. (Bogenschutz et al., 2015)
•Nicotine addiction – 80% showed abstinence at 6-month follow-up (typically <35%) (Johnson, Garcia-Romeu, Cosimano, & Griffiths, 2014)
•OCD – tested in nine subjects in a within-subjects design. Produced significant decreases (Wilcox, 2014)

 

Adventure Mode

After more than 10 days at burning man I’m going to try to explain what makes Black Rock City a unique niche environment that biases behavior towards playfulness, improvisation and adventure. I’ll try to explain why this is so rewarding for the brain and why the hippies got the ‘go with the flow’ thing right. Wish me luck and read on!

The man at the center

The man at the center

The predictive coding framework (Friston & Kiebel, 2009) claims that in essence the brain is a prediction machine, it tries to predict it’s sensory input and form a model of the environment as well as predict the best interaction with the environment. The reason for this is flat out survival. Biological life must “maintain their states and form in the face of a constantly changing environment” (Friston, 2010) yet interactions with the environment are needed for food and reproduction.

One way to make predictions easier for the brain is to actively intervene and change the environment, making it more predictable (Clark, 2013). Almost all animals do that, create nests, lairs or mark their territory. Human’s just do it on a much larger scale. We create cities, social norms and chain stores to make things easier to predict.

Black Rock City is a unique man made environment, on one hand it is more predictable than most cities. It is designed in a shape of a clock with the man at its center, there are public toilets at every corner and a fence making sure people don’t get lost in the desert. Due to the high ticket price and the gifting economy an environment of plenty is created making it much safer than most cities. Not to say that crime doesn’t exist, our bike got stolen from under our nose and I heard of a sexual assault in another camp but relatively speaking, it is safe and allows your brain to stay away from ‘fight or flight’ mode. Safety exists also in the social domain, as Burning Man defines itself as an inclusive community which allows for radical self expression. You will not be excluded for being naked, or gay, or having a unique fetish or hobbie.

no way to predict the next moment? WTF is that?

no way to predict the next moment? WTF is that?

The predictable infrastructure is the basis for all the mayhem that grows on top of it. Just standing on a street corner you have no idea what crazy art installation, costumed person, game, or strange social interaction might come your way. The weather too includes maddening dust storms that come out of no-where and the fact that there is no cell phone reception (well, this year to my dismay there actually was some) makes creating concrete plans and sticking to them virtually impossible.

So what does this have to do with improvisation and playfulness?

Let’s get back to the brain for a second, these predictive processes  in the brain are organized in a hierarchy. For any pair of levels, the higher-level will have hypotheses predicting the bottom–up signals from lower-levels. If the predictions are good, the bottom–up signals will be ‘explained away’. Only discrepancies between the winning prediction and the bottom–up signal remain as ‘prediction error’.

Creating a top down prediction that is far from reality = delusion

Creating a top down prediction that is far from reality = delusion

For instance, while lower levels of your brain exposed to a tree leaf will model the greenness of it to great detail, higher layers will just use an abstract word and shut down the lower layers, limiting the activation of  the lower level green ‘colour networks’.

Many improvisational techniques use exercises that overwhelm the ‘higher’ levels of the brain and split up the hierarchy allowing lower layers to be the ones explaining the input signals. For instance, try acting out an action but saying that you are doing something else or pointing at a familiar object but giving it a different name. These exercising force your brain to move away from ingrained prediction patterns confuse your higher verbal brain function that are used to predicting (describing) reality.

The lower layers react faster as the information doesn’t have to be carried all the way to the top and this added speed and fluidness is what improvisation is all about.

Why is that so much fun? Well, the dopamine reward system of your brain actually reacts much stronger to surprise rewards than to predictable ones. By not having these higher levels expectations, the brain can experience a higher degree of reward, and because of the higher refresh rate of the lower levels, your brain will be getting rewarded much more often.

A tiny part of the fun

A tiny part of the fun

 

The feeling of safety is also crucial for professional improvisers, the fear of messing up blocks the brain and puts actors, dancers, or musicians into ‘freeze’ mode.

The massive amounts of unpredictable information in Black Rock City combined with the safe structure are a controlled exercise in overwhelming higher levels of your brain. The addition of some chemicals that further reduce higher functions of  the brain increase this affect even more. As many will testify, this is a city made for tripping. Tripping reduces the activity of these higher levels and takes your brain back to a more childlike state. It’s no surprise that one of the main themes of burning man is giant playgrounds and giant games (my camp was part of that too with human foosball and creating a giant billiard with balling balls). While our brain can be reduced to a childlike state our body stays the same, thus we need to increase the size of the playground to give us the same magical, almost overwhelming feeling, we had as children climbing the monkey bars reaching out to the sky.

hippies get some things right

hippies get some things right

There is a fine balance to be found – if the top-most layers expect too much they will ‘enslave’ the lower layers and try to force ‘reality’ do be something that it’s not. While totally getting rid of the higher layers isn’t a good thing either, it makes the brain incredibly susceptible to the current stimulus coming from the environment, which can be cold, dusty or dirty on the physical level or crushingly sad and depressing if you go into the temple. This sounds very zen, but you can get you brain into a state of  knowing that “everything is going to be ok and even if it’s not ok it will still be ok.” This is just the right amount of higher layer biasing towards a positive prediction but still freeing the lower layers to react in an improvised way to whatever actually happens.

Mood badges! brainstorming with some pro artists and burners got me to this idea.

Mood badges! brainstorming with some pro artists and burners got me to this idea.

I found a cool way to slightly hack this system using ‘mood badges’. An LED lit badge that signals out to the world what type of interaction would be recharging. “Teach me stuff”, “Flirt with me” or “Tell me a secret”, became a setting for an improvised social interaction that was deeper and more satisfying than the usual small talk conversations. I’m seriously thinking of wearing them in my daily life, or maybe even making a cell phone app out of it. Anyone interested?

Anyway if you want to read more about predictive coding and the ‘sense of self’ you can read my neuro philosophy paper: 2015-07-13 Predictive Coding final5. Or read some of the papers in the references.

P.S Thank Brodi for the pics!

 

Friston, K. (2010). The free-energy principle: a unified brain theory? Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 11(2), 127–138. http://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2787

Friston, K., & Kiebel, S. (2009). Predictive coding under the free-energy principle. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 364(1521), 1211–1221. http://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2008.0300

Friston, K., Thornton, C., & Clark, A. (2012). Free-energy minimization and the dark-room problem. Frontiers in Psychology, 3(MAY), 1–7. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00130

Pre Burn

Burning man might be a week long social experiment/festival for some, but for other’s it’s a year-long hobby that increasingly takes over their life as the burn gets closer. Hanging out in San Francisco I got to meet some of the people who invest their time and money to create the magic that is Black Rock city.  Read on

Where dreams are built

Where dreams are built

The first time I walked into Nimby (not in my back yard), a massive warehouse in Oakland, the cynical bastard in me went to sleep for a few hours. It was at the back stage where dreams were being set up, like some scenes in Niel Gaiman’s Sandman. All around me people were working on projects that they chose to work on, investing their time and money on something that had no practical use. “We just like building stuff,” most people would tell me when I asked why they were doing this.

Even Dr. Brainlove can't escape bureaucracy of licencing and a license plate.

Even Dr. Brainlove can’t escape bureaucracy of licencing and a license plate.

I joined a group called Phage which exists for around 10 years trying to ‘infect the playa with science’, their art car called Dr. Brainlove models brain activity by using 400 meters of LED’s on a massive steel framework that can be climbed on.

After running around taking pictures and poking my nose around I asked to help and was put to work painting. I was delighted by the large percentage of women that were involved, many of them leading the project.

Build parties

Build parties

Nimby might be where all the heavy duty work took place, but cutting of the LEDs, soldering and the programing mostly happened at the crazy house of two amazing technical artists (check out their web site called sustainable magic and their workshops and events). I have always used the technique of calling something a party + ordering pizza and beers to get people to build my garden, paint my walls, help me move to a new apartment. These people have taken it one step further with their ‘build parties’.  I practiced being a Chinese factory worker for a few hours of cutting LEDs. My main contribution was probably finding a way to reduce the labor for that specific task by sliding the LEDs then cutting them just once instead of cutting them on both sides.

Chinese factory worker, just with music, friends and as many breaks as I want.

Chinese factory worker, just with music, friends and as many breaks as I want.

I also joined the sustainable magic crew in a last minute attempt to save the day by using their laser cutter to create thousands of plastic pieces that will hold in place the material used to defuse the LEDs light. The warehouse they work in was another small version of Nimby with amazing art created for burning man in previous years.

Another project I helped out with a little, mostly by giving massages, although I got to grind some of the rust away with this massive machine without killing myself, was the Tree of missed connections. A bunch of friends working in their back yard creating a LED-lit climbable tree, yes people like to climb on thing at burning man!

The Tree of missed connections

The Tree of missed connections

Both these projects were funded using crowd funding and let’s admit it, would probably not have come into being if the day jobs of a lot of the participants and their friends wasn’t the booming high tech industry in the area. This doesn’t lessen their accomplishment by one bit but shows that the freedom to create comes at a price that most people probably can’t afford.

Some amazing art from last year!

Some amazing art from last year!

These people and thousands of others creating the art for burning man will be working right up to the burn (and after). They will reach the playa even more exhausted than most but at least for some the added value of creating something together as a group is enough to keep them going and send them raving into the night… well, some chemical assistance might help as well.

See you on playa!

Let’s Play

San Francisco is known for its luscious sex scene. Visiting the city I took the opportunity to explore some of the play parties here and came back with mixed feelings… read on

The info

There seem to be two main venues catering to different sections of the population. “mission control” parties, catering to the fetish oriented, sex positive, queer friendly community that like to play dress up; and “club kiss”, for the hetro-normative swinger population which requires ‘pre-approval’ by the organizers. Behind the scenes both parties are actually organized by the same people and I was slightly disappointed to discover that both parties used the same venue, a two floor strange building, with two play rooms on the bottom floor and a dance floor on top.

80’s porn influences?

 The beginning

Both parties began with the thing I hate most in the world, small talk. There was a definite difference though. Mission control party was more like a community, there was a feeling that most people knew each other, while club kiss had more of an awkward feeling to it. Both parties did not serve alcohol due to licensing reasons but people were allowed to bring their own drinks to serve as a social lubricant.

The screaming clown- not sexy!!!

Mission control had half an hour of terrible amateurish performances. They showed non classic body types which was nice but the actual ‘stripping’ performances were terrible. At some point two half naked clowns began screaming and I actually had to leave the room because it was too awful. When I came back it didn’t get any better, they were in the middle of performing a cult-like ceremony. “Put you hand on somebody’s ass and repeat after me”, a woman on the stage was saying, “Ask first!” she reminded the crowd. I refused to take part and don’t even remember the words they were saying, something about a ‘sexual revolution’. If I wanted idiot brainwashing rituals I’d have stayed in my religious school.

In general the club kiss crowd seemed older, mostly in their 40s, while mission control party  had a wider variety of ages. In both parties the participants ‘looks’ were probably slightly higher than average but again, there was a wide variety.

The negotiations

At mission control, most of the party was centered around the dance floor which was way too hot and crowded, people were catching up and some light ‘play’ was taking place. There was some action in the play rooms but they were never really packed. At club kiss at some point the dance floor was totally empty, people were there to have sex!

Well, how do you go about negotiating a ‘play date’? I guess things were mostly honest and open but also a little business like. The thing I disliked most was the fact that couples were dealt with as a single unit. Even though in mission control people didn’t have to come as couples, two guys could just come together, even if they weren’t gay (this somehow didn’t affect the men/women percentage too much) their playing was still totally couple oriented. The fact that I find most guys unattractive meant the partner I was there with was limited by the interactions he could have. I did feel very safe throughout the entire party, a lot more safe than normal dance parties.

The revolution is still couple oriented

The finish

The truth is I wasn’t horny at all in either of the playing situations I participated in. There was novelty and fun in them but it really was more like an ‘act’ for me. At the mission control we played a little with another experienced couple and I came up with ‘games’ style ‘who’s better at what?” The club kiss play room really looked like some massive porno movie site. And I found myself ‘fluffing’ some of the couple around me while one of them went to the bathroom or to get some lube. Towards the end the organizers kept walking in “10 minutes to lights on,” they shouted trying to get people to leave. “Honey, forget about your underwear just put your clothes on” someone said just before I left, and I cracked up trying to imagine if there was anywhere else I could ever hear that sentence.

Rail Meat

Boats have always been my nemesis. Last time, in Thailand, I threw up and swore I would never get on a boat again, the time before that, in Ireland, was even worse and my gastric fluids turned into fish bait! Somehow a sail boat competition I got invited to made me give boats another chance… read on for details…

It's crowded out there!

It’s crowded out there!

Don't worry, no one really let me drive

Don’t worry, no one really let me drive

I’ll start with the end, and get the suspense over with. I didn’t throw up! I’m not sure if it was the relatively calm bay or the fact that I had to be physically active, but I was mostly fine. The physical activity was what convinced me to come along. Every person on a sail boat has to help with the sailing, even if it’s just being ‘rail meat’ like I was, having to crawl under the sail and switch sides every time the boat turns to help keep its balance and speed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because before you actually start sailing there is a lot of prepping to do. I usually complain about the hassle of lead climbing, having to go through the rope and clip on all the quick draws. Well sailing is sort of like that, just 100 times worse. You have to unpack the sail, thread lots of ropes in the right places, tie them and then recoil them so it doesn’t get too messy. The knots were mostly figure 8 knots I use in climbing so I had that down but the rest was totally new with the pro lingo being total gibberish to me. The only word I still remember is ‘head’ for the top part of the sail. Oh, and grinders, can’t forget that, they are these handles that are used to turn the ropes that controls the sail.

All those ropes!

All those ropes!

Turns out sailing races are all about getting to the starting line on time and in the right position. These things are really hard to maneuver and never stand still. So if you accidently go over the start line ahead of time you disqualify. Also with so many boats so close together it was pretty hard to avoid crashing into others. Luckily, there were two pro sailors on board who directed the 5 others who didn’t know much of anything. I got the very important job of calling out the depth so we don’t get stuck in mud before the starting line. Then I was sent forward where my meager weight could be used as counter balance. It was pretty scary to duck under the sail and switch sides as the boat turned sometimes tilting sideways at crazy angles. It seemed very easy to slip and fall over board. I got a few bruises and screamed a few times but it was good fun.

Sailing races are also like judo, there are various categories based on length. In our category (over 30 ft) there was only one other boat, which we left in the dust! We even managed to catch up with some of the faster boats that started ahead of us, even without using the secret weapon of a spinnaker, an extra massive sail that is used to go upwind. The pros thought it would be too much for us to handle.

The most impressive part to watch was actually reversing the boat back into it’s docking place! Talk about some tight maneuvering. After that we had to fold all the gear, but it wasn’t as bad as expected. All I had to do was use my weight once more to keep the sail from flapping while others folded it. And we could do it while doing what sailing enthusiasts seem to like best, drinking beer!