English attorney Alistair Robertson can’t quite believe an astonishing tale of kingship and transformation he hears at Burning Man, the annual counter-culture art festival in the Black Rock desert. Who are the Found Kings? Is “being kinged” as magical as it sounds?
Determined to find the mysterious garage mechanic named Vin who helps men “remember who they were always meant to be,” Alistair catches his quarry amid the extravagant sculptures, fire worshipers, mutant cars, and lavish costumes. After searching for three years, he’ll finally get to ask the question burning inside him: “Will you king me?”
Wandering together through the desert, Vin Vanbly and Alistair explore Burning Man’s gifting culture and exotic traditions, where they meet the best and worst of their fellow burners. Alistair’s overconfidence in Vin’s manipulative power collides with Vin’s obsessive need to save a sixteen-year-old runaway from a nightmarish fate, and the two men spiral in uncontrollable, explosive directions.
In this fourth adventure of The Lost and Founds, beneath the sweltering summer sun and the six billion midnight stars, one truth emerges, searing itself on their hearts: in the desert, everything burns.
Ok. I can do this. I can wait until the next book comes out. I can. I can sit here and not know and be utterly DESTROYED until it does. Because this book. This amazing damn book comes out of nowhere and made me feel all of the emotions there are to feel. There are moments I laughed out loud (and subsequently got strange looks from people around me in public) then the net page I am heartbroken by something. It was an amazing emotion filled roller coaster that I would ride again in a heartbeat. I love that this story takes place at The Burning Man, it creates an atmosphere in itself for the story that couldn’t have been created any other way. Allistair is wonderful. He goes through his journey and Vin gives him what he needs to become King John. Though he doesn’t realize it at the time he’s always been King John, he just had to believe in himself. Vin is the perfect king. I’ve got some theories on the main questions he has through the book, but I truly don’t want to spoil it for anyone. There’s magic in this story. There’s magic in words, in friends, and in kings and queens. There’s also magic in Vin, but I don’t think he’s quite ready to know that yet. I want to say that I haven’t read any of the other books in this series and I still loved the heck out of it. But oh my gosh, that ending! AUGH! What a way to leave me hanging there.
Four and a half
Edmond stops by today to talk about living with an open heart. He tells some steps on how to open your heart along with giving an excerpt from both King Mai and King John as well. This post is absolutely fabulous and I suggest everyone read it. Read and enjoy!
Opening A Man’s Heart
Open your heart.
Such a lovely, simple command.
C’mon. Open your heart. Let some light in. Let some darkness out.
Sounds good. Friendly, even. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it first appears. If you’ve ever been screwed over by a close friend, felt the pangs of professional jealousy, or ended a relationship feeling bitter about love, you know. You know.
I think it’s why we read fiction, actually, to watch characters we can empathize with open their hearts, and then we glean what we can from them. Can I have hope like this heroine? Can I choose to set aside past wrongs like that man did?
When it comes to men opening their hearts, well, we are a strange animal. I’ve been staffing men’s retreat weekends for more than ten years. These retreats specialize in emotional literacy and helping men grasp this difficult, painful concept: I feel.
It’s hard for men to accept that little fact. Of course, not always…we men like feeling some things (joy, relaxation, goofiness). But we’re not fans of feeling other things, less happy things. So to make the idea of “opening your heart” more palatable, I organized my thoughts into a list. A short list. (Men like lists.)
Step 1: Promise big rewards.
If you’re going to invite a man to feel something like grief or anger, you’d better make sure he knows there’s going to be a payoff: better sex, post-argument euphoria, you won’t criticize his eating habits for a full week. Something! Men don’t always have that longer-term vision when it comes to feelings. We tend to live in the mindset of “This hurts now, so let’s not feel this now. Instead, let’s have some chocolate Oreos.”
Before you ask a man to experience opening his heart, he’s gonna want to know what’s in it for him.
In my second book, King Mai, the big promise in the first chapter is that the almost-evicted farmer Mai Kearns will find a way to save the family farm from foreclosure. Pretty big reward, eh? Of course, sneaky, manipulative narrator Vin Vanbly finds a way to get Mai to choose this big reward himself by framing the option in a manner he simply can’t refuse:
While Mai stares at the fake ransom note in his hand, I say, “This weekend is about choice. Option A, we go hunting for your farm mortgage just like the ransom note demands. Of course it’s not your real mortgage. It’s just a metaphor. But this treasure hunt gives us a reason to discuss your farm all weekend, what it means to you. We can talk about how you’re the problem and you’re also the solution.”
Mai stares hard right back at me.
“Option B, we politely avoid this pressing topic and instead play all weekend. Tonight, we’ll eat a nice dinner downtown, get drunk at McCabes, and spend several sweaty hours together in my motel room on the edge of town. Tomorrow, we’ll go to Corn Fest and in the evening see that movie we talked about, and have lots more sex. A full weekend of juicy distractions while your real life sinks into the shitter and you remain powerless to stop it. Option A creates power, and from power comes possibilities. Option B feels more fun. Your choice. A or B?”
Is Vin manipulating Mai to achieve a desired outcome, or offering him a real solution for a very real problem? Maybe both. The payoff is big. The risk is bigger.
Step 2: Make him choose surrender.
Ideally, men want to reach open-heartedness by rescuing puppies from a burning orphanage or scoring the winning touchdown. They believe they will bask triumphant in the adoration of football fans and puppy-lovers, and then they’ll think loving, kingly thoughts about all of humanity.
Beyond feeding a man’s pride, scenarios like that won’t keep his heart open. The fantasy feeds an illusion, that if a man is simply more in control – more in control over fear, over fire, over opponents on the football field – more control will equal greater love, greater openness.
Men like being in control.
Living with an open heart feels like being out of control. Ergo, from a man’s perspective: fuck that. But when a man practices surrender in a safe way, such as surrendering to love, or surrendering to the will of his adorable kid, he sees that surrender isn’t that horrible. Maybe it’s wonderful. Maybe even essential. To get a man to open his heart, make him choose his own surrender, help him understand that to get his big reward, he must bow his head to go through the gate.
In the excerpt below from King John, the fourth installment, Vin waits for the surrender. He waits and reflects on the nature of surrender.
We remain silent, each of us holding footwear, me waiting until I see it, something, some shift, some signal of his submission. Even after all these years, I’m not sure I could name what I seek until I find it, until it happens. A softening in the eyes, a gulp and the shift in the Adam’s apple. The hiss of breath through parted lips. Shoulders unclench. With every man it’s different. Yet, with every man it’s the same. We do not like to submit. We refuse to give in. It feels like a betrayal of our masculine power to lower one’s gaze and say, “I will,” when the will is not your own. This is true of the butchest gays, as well as those who sashay into the kingdom. Even those men who love submission have difficulty surrendering when it isn’t what they planned on doing anyway.
I stare at his gorgeous green-and-brown eyes, flecked with a thousand stars. His eyes beam their intelligence my way, and I want to explain intelligence has little to do with submission. But this is not the time for words. Spontaneously, he stutters a halted laugh. That’s it. His submission, masked by a slight guffaw. He shifts from one foot to the other, another clear sign he’s willing to wait for as long as I might command. Good for him.
Step 3: Let out the demons
We all want the good feelings: the joy, the soft purr of contentment, the happy giggling feeling. Who doesn’t? The problem is that those feelings are often neighbors with surly resentment and crispy irritation. Nobody likes those guys. So if you want a man to open his heart, you’ve got to accept and make room for the stuff you’re not fond of. The great thing about fear, anger, and sadness is that once those neighbors know they’re welcome to show up and hang out whenever necessary, they no longer need to explode onto the scene with dramatics. They stay mostly in their own yard.
I remember one night I called my best friend, and when she asked how I was feeling, I told her the truth: “I’m sad.” When she asked for more details, I said, “I dunno, I’m just sad.” She stopped asking questions and I stopped feeling the need to justify my sadness. After a while, I was less sad. Not because I tried to fix it, but because I just let it be there, a third party on the phone with us. And she was okay with that. (Which is probably why she’s my best friend.)
Werner Erhard said these lovely words that apply: “Whatever you resist, persists, and whatever you can let be will let you be.”
Step 4: Yank out the carpet.
Men (and women too) want the path to open-heartedness to be clear, crisp, and well-lit. We want to know the challenges ahead so our brain can prepare for them. Figure out the right things to say, the right expression to wear. Know if and when it’s appropriate to cry. But open-heartedness means letting go of those left-brain cues and responding to whatever comes up. Might be joy. Might be anger. Might be you feel anger while everyone else feels joy. That’s the risk you take.
In King John, a British Burning Man attendee named Alistair wants to know the path to this openness. He. Wants. To. Know. He refuses to understand why a man must submit, so Vin is forced to yank the rug out from under his expectations. His immediate question is this: why couldn’t Vin better prepare him for his own King Weekend? This question bothers him. In the scene below, Vin answers him.
“Where’s the harm, mate, in answering that one question?”
I run my hand over the blond stubble on my skull, flinging sweat from the back of my head. The sun remains powerful, even as it strolls toward its own setting.
I say, “Where’s the harm, mate? Well, there’s a price. A price you must pay to hear the true answer to your question.”
“What’s the price?”
“That’s a different question. Either pay the price and get your full answer, or no answer, no consequences.”
“I want the answer,” he says, squinting. “I’m not trying to be a tosser. But it’s bothering me.”
“Absolutely,” I say. “You should know once this question is no longer stressing you, another will take its place. Then another. Then more. I don’t think you’ll feel the satisfaction you expect. Still, if you want, I’ll answer you and reveal the damage. Sound good?”
“Let’s sit in the shade for a moment. Other side of the lighthouse.”
We head to the east side, which provides meager shade in the shadow of The Man. I sit on a wooden bench, tracing the exterior, and he joins me. We hear people tromping around the platform above us, laughing, occasionally calling to friends. From here, we regard a few of the larger interactive art pieces erected in the desert. Beyond the art, far away, the Calico Mountains. Still, no human-made art outclasses the sun, the best and biggest artistry in this competition.
“I’m sorry you’re nervous about hanging out with me. I understand what you went through to come today was difficult. I get it, because I intentionally made it hard. Tell me this. If I’d sat with you yesterday and answered all your questions for the next two hours, would you have felt better?”
“And what would you have done with the information I provided.”
“I would have analyzed it for better understanding of a King Weekend and if such a weekend felt right for me. I would feel more confident about my personal and emotional safety. As far as today, I could relax and enjoy my time with you instead of feeling anxious.”
“Okay, so more information would have helped you relax. Helped you make the decision to show up.”
“No. Not true. The amount of information didn’t impact your decision. We know this to be true because here you are.”
“Ah, lawyer talk. With additional information, the lawyer in you could think, think, think until you dug escape tunnels for every question I might ask. That’s what you would have done with my answers.”
“I wouldn’t say that, no. Valuable analysis, yes. But not—”
“Alistair, you’re not someone who lies to yourself often, so let my accusation sting a little. You lie to the outside world, but you don’t lie to yourself. You pride yourself on that. My point is, with your questions unanswered, you grew your trust. You stretched a muscle inside you which you forget to exercise.”
He puts his elbows on his knees and says, “Trust.”
“That’s what you grew in the past twenty-four hours, living with unanswered questions. You grew your faith. One way to grow your crop of faith is to grow it incrementally, force your heart open an inch at a time. I once kinged an Illinois farmer. I pried open his trust inch by fucking inch. All weekend, inch by inch. Inside his crusty exterior hid this amazing man waiting for someone to find him. Your King Weekend won’t work that way because you’re completely different.”
“Well, you strike me as the kind of man who grows in explosive bursts. Nudge a man like you in the right direction and you go barreling toward the kingdom gates. Drawback is, the more a man like you knows about how his kingship works, the more he intellectualizes the experience. It decreases his odds of crossing over. Now that you know I intentionally attempted to grow your trust, every time a similar opportunity presents itself this weekend—a time when you could spontaneously act from compassion or faith—you’ll think twice. How should I act? What would someone with trust do? What would a king do? You won’t know your true reaction. You’ve just lost the opportunity for unconscious authenticity. Receiving the answer to your big question—that I was trying to grow your trust in a huge leap—has suddenly made it a lot harder for you to reach your kingship.”
“Wait. I wasn’t trying to wreck the weekend, I only wanted to know why—”
“Now you do. And you’ve paid the price. Compared to five minutes ago, you’re now less likely to become a Found King.”
“Bullocks!” he cries. “I didn’t…You didn’t…”
He stands and paces a few feet away. He returns and stands in front of me.
I watch his shocked expression with grim satisfaction. This works. He’s a question-asking machine. I didn’t realize we’d start the weekend with a lighthouse duel. I can use this to learn how far to push him. En garde!
As a reader, I love being surprised. I love having my expectations confounded. And best of all, I love a good twist I never saw coming and yet somehow fits perfectly. In fiction, we get to enjoy the carpet being yanked out from under our feet while the characters scramble to react.
The steps to opening your heart are few, but challenging. And there are so many variations to the steps, the many splendiferous ways we can submit and make more room inside us for joy and sorrow. One of the strangest details about opening your heart is that you don’t need to memorize steps or a path. When the time comes, you just need to say, “yes.”
EDMOND MANNING has always been fascinated by fiction: how ordinary words could be sculpted into heartfelt emotions, how heartfelt emotions could leave an imprint inside you stronger than the real world. Mr. Manning never felt worthy to seek publication until recently, when he accidentally stumbled into his own writer’s voice that fit perfectly, like his favorite skull-print fuzzy jammies. He finally realized that he didn’t have to write like Charles Dickens or Armistead Maupin— two author heroes— and that perhaps his own fiction was juuuuuuust right, because it was his true voice, so he looked around the scrappy word kingdom that he created for himself and shouted, “I’M HOME!” He is now a writer.
In addition to fiction, Edmond enjoys writing nonfiction on his blog. When not writing, he can be found either picking raspberries in the back yard or eating panang curry in an overstuffed chair upstairs, reading comic books. Feel free to contact him.
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