When Camping Goes Bad OR: Why Musicals Are My Prozac

Maybe if everyone at camping had taken my suggestion that we "carol" at each of the campsites, I wouldn't have had to turn to musical theater to cheer myself up. Again.

Jun 7, 2012 at 4:00pm | Leave a comment

It’s no secret I hate feelings. Here’s an actual quote from a recent therapy session which, as you may have read, I am trying (in vain) to put an end to.

Therapist: If you don’t want to stay in therapy, you obviously don’t have to. But I do think you may have an issue with feelings.

Me: Um, yeah. Feelings are disgusting. Ew. Gross.

Therapist: Exactly.

But as much as I hate having feelings, they’re a thing. We all have them. And sometimes they sneak up on us and affect us in ways we weren’t expecting. And when that happens, well, it’s probably time to acknowledge their existence. I know. I know. Barf.

When winter came to an end and my ski lease in Tahoe ended, I was expecting to be depressed. Summer in San Francisco has always been a struggle for me. More often that not, it is cold and foggy, and more and more, SF is a place I prefer to escape as much as possible. Since I moved back to this city in 2006, I’ve done my best to find ways to bring a little summer and sunshine into my life when it doesn’t otherwise exist. Day trips to Bolinas to go surfing, wine tasting in Napa, hikes in Marin. But more often than not, I ended up doing those things alone.

When I started dating Campfriend, I finally had someone in my life who loved the same things I did. Someone who wanted to camp and surf and make the most out of every single weekend. I knew when we broke up that I was losing all of that. And I also knew it wouldn’t hit me until the end of snowboarding season.

Which it did. After Tahoe ended in mid-May, I spent the next two weekends in total solitude. Unable or unwilling to make the effort, I moped around my apartment depressed and alone lamenting the (self-imposed) boredom. When one of my best friends suggested a bunch of us go on a camping trip last weekend, I immediately perked up. Just because I don’t have Campfriend, I realized, doesn’t mean I don’t have people in my life who want to have fun and do the things I love.

So I bought a new tent, packed my car full of gear, organized meals and all the rest of it, and headed to Mineral Bar, which only later would I regret was a state campground and not a saloon.

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This is from a different camping trip. The only photo I had from Mineral Bar was that of an SUV flipped upside down in a ravine and somehow that just felt far too dramatic. A picture of me in a tree that looks like a big vagina is so much more fun!

That’s right. Camping was a fiasco. Blood, sweat and tears. Literally. And in massive quantities. I don’t want to piss off the people involved, but let’s just say it was bad. Less than 24 hours into the trip, all I wanted was to return to my apartment, build a cocoon and never leave again. Violence, police, alcohol, anger, abuse: they all made an appearance at the campsite. It was like an episode of "Cops," but worse. Because at camping, there was no changing the channel.

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The view from the river by Mineral Bar. Or, as I like to call it: The Bridge Over (VERY) Troubled Waters.

When I finally got home on Sunday afternoon, I was so depressed, I could barely function. I immediately crawled into my pajamas and under a blanket. If I could have stayed there for a month, I would have. Monday morning, I was still so shocked and upset that I could barely get out of bed. By Tuesday, I’d hardly slept and was doing a terrible job of going through the motions. 

All I wanted was to be alone. To sit in silence. To permanently remove myself from the insanity that can occur just by leaving the house. I think doctors call it depression. I was calling it self-preservation. If something as simple as a camping trip with friends could leave me feeling this drained, I thought, what was the point of putting myself out there? If I want to be happy, I thought, I have to be alone. 

But I had plans with my oldest, dearest friend. My friend who always listens, doesn’t put up with bullshit, and gives amazing advice. Dinner and the theater. (My life isn’t all white trash cop shows, after all.) And even though I just wanted to stew in my pajamas and watch "Pretty Little Liars" (what?), I made myself go. I put on a dress, brushed my hair, swiped on some lip gloss, and called a taxi.

At the very least I won't be drinking alone, I thought. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, I told myself.)

We went to see Voca People, a show about which I knew absolutely nothing except that I was terrified of the snow-white, ruby-lipped aliens on the posters I’d seen around town. When we sat down in our seats, I glanced the program to learn more.

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The Voca People. Far less terrifying than they look.

“After a millennium of traveling through space, the VOCA PEOPLE finally land on planet Earth, sadly discovering that their spaceship, charged by music alone, has been completely depleted. Slowly, VOCA PEOPLE learn the strange earthly habits and typical earth music, and with the help of the audience, reboot their unique spaceship with music energy.”

I’m sorry, but I gave up Pretty Little Liars for singing aliens? WTF. I was even more annoyed than before, if that was possible.

Then the show started.

And as the “aliens” began to perform -- combining vocals, a cappella singing, and beat boxing -- to form the sounds of drums, trumpets, guitars and more, I began to smile. 

"Mr. Sandman," "Billie Jean," "I Will Always Love You," Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, the theme from E.T.…  They did it all. And it sounded as though they were accompanied by a full orchestra for every song. I have never heard anything as amazing as what I heard during this performance. Words can’t do it justice though. Listen for yourself (but turn it up really loud first):

These aliens started “singing” and I started smiling. And I didn’t stop. Ear-to-ear grin. For almost two straight hours. When it was over, I stood on my feet and clapped with my hands held high. I could have listened to them all night long. I was sad. I was depressed. And these comical performers made me forget all about it. Even better: They made it go away. At least for a little while.

Sometimes life seriously sucks. Sometimes you have to go through things alone. Sometimes your friends make horrible decisions that break your heart. Sometimes it’s hard to get up in the morning.

We all go through bad times. And even though I hate talking about my feelings, I guess I believe that it helps for us to remember that about each other. That we all have days we don’t want to face. Where life just seems sad and frustrating and terrible.

Yes, I despise talking about my feelings. After all, admitting I am lonely or sad or depressed makes me vulnerable. But I do it because maybe next time you have one of those days/weeks/months, you’ll remember what I wrote here. Maybe you’ll remember that in the face of misery, I put on a dress and went to the theater. Maybe you'll remember that I found happiness where I least expected it: in the form of eight intergalactic singing aliens.

This week at the theater I was reminded that even when it seems incredibly elusive, happiness in some form is always waiting to be discovered. 

So tell me: Where’s the strangest place you’ve found it? Because honestly, this ain't over and I might need to look there next.

If you live in the Bay Area, you MUST go see VOCA PEOPLE at the Marine's Memorial Theater. And don't take my word for it. Jimmy Fallon called it "the coolest show ever." EVER. Hurry though! It's only playing through June 17th. Just trust me on this one.