I loved Las Vegas so much. But lately I’ve been thinking about Las Vegas as abuser.
When Ming and I moved away from Las Vegas last month, we were leaving my home, a place I’d given seven years of my life, the beautiful land where I went on the Sacred Peace Walk and learned community is possible. It’s where I found my life’s work. We prayed with all kinds of people. Sunrise ceremonies with the Native people, Passover Seder, and some Buddhist chants were all new to me.
I learned how to garden in Las Vegas, the plants there, and desert life that’s subtle but no less valid.
A forest is so overwhelmingly green with life. Desert life can be harder to see, but it’s always there. Lizard, creosote, grasshopper, rabbit, cryptobiotic crust. Life is there, even if it’s not hitting you over the head. It’s a joy to be aware of subtlety and attuned to something that requires a different kind of attention.
As for the social part, the city made of people–yeah, it’s weird to create a hedonism mecca. The adult Disneyland aspect is repulsive, in my opinion. Las Vegas has a certain flavor of cheap pleasure.
- huge casinos and gambling
- opulent, expensive all you can eat buffets
- burlesque and showgirls
- strippers, strip clubs
- shows of spectacle
- those places where you can shoot automatic weapons like assault rifles
- places where you can drive a racecar and maybe a tank
- helicopter tours of the city
- jumping off a high building (which Ming likes to do)
- zip lines, roller coasters
- the huge ferris wheel
- glorification of mobsters and nuclearism
I don’t mean to hate on strippers or any sex workers–I have no problem with them. I’m bothered by the overall capitalism attitude of anything to make a buck off tourists who come to let their hair down. To be repressed at home, then travel to a place of warped values. I find it exploitative. They don’t come for a soul-nourishing pleasure–it’s a pleasure of denial and exploitation. I don’t care for it.
Even more, I don’t care for how Las Vegas treats its poor and homeless. Trying to hide capitalism’s worst victims is so standard but heartbreaking.
The part where I’m noticing Las Vegas as abuser is how I’ve defended it. Friends elsewhere would say, “I really don’t like Las Vegas,” and I’d feel like they were seeing Las Vegas simplistically as just the Strip, where all the huge casinos are.
I would defend Las Vegas, saying there’s so much more to it, like gorgeous Red Rock. I’d explain it’s a valid place where many people live; it’s not just the casino industrial complex. And there’s so much work to do, caring for the people who are treated as trash, the victims of its excess.
I’d feel annoyed at how my friends elsewhere were painting with too broad a brush.
But then last month as Ming and I packed our things and drove away, I felt a sense of relief. I’d wanted to leave in May, but driving away June 20th means I endured much of June, which was hard summer work.
That sense of relief felt like escape–escape from something that was oppressing me. That’s when I realized that all my hard work defending Las Vegas was like defending an abuser.
“The majority of the time, he’s mostly ok to live with,” and “He went through a lot when he was a kid, and he’s learning–he’s working on it,” are the kinds of things I’ve heard friends say defending their fucked up partners who violence them.
I was stuck in Las Vegas–I loved the sacred work I was doing, but the summers are terrible.
Some people love the heat. Many people complain, but if you live in a house with central air that works, it’s somewhat ok. I never lived in a house with central air. Trying to get by with swamp coolers for years was horrible. The house we lived in got brutal afternoon sun.
Even with portable acs, summers were way too hot and long, and I was cooped up in a bad way. I could feel it was horrible for my health, and I needed to go. Still I doubted myself. Other people could live in the house we lived in–why couldn’t I? I must not be trying hard enough.
I tried to increase my bodily health, exercising every day. Didn’t matter. I even lost weight as a result of health issues. Still the heat felt horrible to my body, like it was killing me.
Finally I realized–it doesn’t matter if other people can do it. This body I have doesn’t want the brutal heat. I intuited that I would die if I needed to endure another Las Vegas summer. That is no small thing. My body was telling me to get out.
That’s another way I now see Las Vegas as abuser. It was killing me. But it took me years to face that, accept it, stop blaming myself for the harm I was receiving, and get out.
It’s a good example of how most things are not all good or bad. The good and bad being mixed together is part of what’s confusing. I needed the Sacred Peace Walk and to learn everything I learned in that desert.
But I also needed to leave once I’d learned it. It wasn’t a mistake to move to Las Vegas and do works of mercy, radical mental health, peace work, writing, art making, friendship, intentional community, and learn how to love myself there. But maybe it was a mistake to stay for seven years when I needed more like three or four.
Well, I’m out now, on the coast. It’s morning in the Bay Area, mid July as I write this, and I could use a sweater. This fog is like the fog in my homeland. My soul can rest here.
Not sure how I will find a home where my needs will be met, but we are journeying and trying.