Saturday, September 30, 2006

On Being Kind To Yourself

Last night we went out with one of my friends from college, T. We started out at Diablo Royale in the Village. I think I wrote about this place a few weeks ago when my our friend M--of burning man fame--was visiting from SF. Interesting Mexican place. Fish tacos and the like. Good blood orange margaritas and this funky drink called a ricky--half frozen margarita and half dos equis. (I know: sounds gross, but actually isn't bad.) Anyhoo, after our meal and a pitcher of regular old margaritas, we went to a bunch of other bars, like The Other Room and some place I don't remember the name of...

Suffice it to say I felt a little--shall we say sluggish--this morning. So I didn't make it to the regular vinyasa-style yoga class I normally take on Saturday mornings. Lucky for me there was a basic class at noon led by one of my all-time faves, Rachel Feinberg.

I haven't taken a class this basic in a really long time. There was this extended warm-up and a truncated surya namaskar a and b series and for like a half second I was kind of dissappointed--in myself, not Rachel. (I could have gotten up in time for the more vigorous class, couldn't I?)

But then, the more I settled into the breathing and the gentle poses the more I realized that this class was EXACTLY what I needed today. And that maybe I should try every once in a while jsut relaxing into my life instead of always trying so hard, pushing so hard at everything.

A little kindness, you know?

Anyway. We're meeting R.'s dad and his wife L for dinner later tonight. His sister LL's tagging along, too. And since we always go to some fab new restaurant, I'm sure I'll have something exciting to report. (LL prides herself on being on the cutting edge of the newest and hippest eateries in Manhattan. She worked as a hostess at Balthazar back when Balthazar was the shit and ever since then she's more or less got a manicured nail on the pulse.)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Next Newest Thing

Tonight R and I went out to this local thai place--cheap entrees; all cash. No outside banner or sign with the restaurant's name. Very Brooklyn, in other words. They've got a really nice patio and so we decided to eat out there instead of in the too-loud main room even though air was a little cold and windy.

Across from me I saw something I've never seen before: a perfectly coiffed blonde woman holding a cat on her lap. The gray feline wore a leash and hopped back into her overlarge purse while the woman quietly enjoyed her meal.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Check Me Out @ Pindeldyboz

One of my stories is featured in an online zine this week.

It's partly based on a true story, actually. Well, the original kernel was true. All else twisted and stretched and dyed to fit my authorial needs.

But. When I was writing my first novel I was living in Charlottesville, Virginia. I wrote most of the book sitting in coffeeshops and restaurants in the downtown area, but when I bored of that I'd trek over to the local library to take advantage of the free wifi. Plus, when I got stuck there were free mags to read.

Anyway. One day this old guy sits down at the table across from me and starts talking to a mild-mannered woman caddycorner to him. He starts telling her that he's writing letters--to whom he never said--because Jesus tells him to. He addded that his wife was murdered ten years ago by a streetperson and ever since he'd been writing these letters. The woman ignored him, but the guy kept talking. He asked her if she believed in Jesus and she just sort of sighed and turned slightly away from him. He said, a little louder this time, that a lot of people--meaning her, I think--didn't believe in a burning hell but he did because he'd seen it. Then he slumped over his paper and began writing with a marker.

Being the voyeur that I am quickly closed the file I was working on and opened up a new doc, frantically transcribing everything I'd heard. A year later, sitting at the Flying Saucer cafe here in Brooklyn, I happened to stumble across the file while I was cleaning up the folders on my desktop.

I'd completely forgotten about him, but now here he was and I couldn't stop thinking about him and what he'd told that woman. A week later, I had this little storylet, Seven Things About Leroy.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Wolverine or Scott? You decide.

Interesting post over at Feminist SF about the badboy-versus-goodboy paradigm and its feminist implications.


2 New Planets!

UK-based SuperWasp (I kid you not; it actually means a wide angle search for planets) has discovered two new planets. Jupiter-sized and gas-based, WASP-1b and WASP-2b are among the hottest planets ever discovered. Read the BBC's report here.


Monday, September 25, 2006

Why I Love Tess Gallagher

Check out this new poem by Tess Gallagher from her book, From Dear Ghosts, published by Graywolf Press.


I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to snow
on the mountain. But when I look up,
saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in
the uppermost branches.
I don't cut that one.
I don't cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,
an unseen nest
where a mountain
would be.

--Tess Gallagher

It was featured today on Everse, a free service from Milkweed Editions ( She's reading on Oct. 12 in Minneapolis, so, you know. If you're in the area...


Downtown Meditation

Last night I met a friend at Union Square. I hadn't seen this friend in about eight or nine months. Strangely, she hadn't really changed at all. I mean. At. All.

We ambled over to the Wai Cafe then went to the Downtown Meditation group led by Peter Dobinin. This group practices something called Insight Meditation. Insight meditation, as opposed to say transcendental meditation, focuses on observing the breath, not repeating a mantra or a prayer. Now, there was a time when I was living in Charlottesville, Virginia, that I went to an insight group every week. During the months following my mother's suicide attempt, meditation was the only thing that could quiet all the shit running through my brain. But after we moved to NY, I fell out of the habit and chose to focus on things like yoga. And blogging.

Until last night.

I'd been feeling pretty anxious for a couple of weeks. After my epiphanies at Burning Man I came back all fired up about revamping my life and my work but found myself a little at a loss as to how to actually do that. Sloth set in. Doubt. All my usual demons.

So I emailed this friend and set up a meditation date. But you know? I didn't feel it last night. Even the dharma talk afterwards--usually 30-45 minutes of reflections about buddhism and life, usually my favorite section--didn' really resonate. It coudl be I hit the group on the wrong night. I mean immediately afterwards they held their monthly "Community Meeting" in which they discuss administrative issues of the sangha, or community. But I don't know. I think I'll try a few of the other groups around town before I go back. Like the Dharma Punx group that meets at Lila Yoga on the Lower East Side. Or maybe I can find a Brooklyn group.


Brooklyn Speaks

If you live in Brooklyn and are pissed off about the Atlantic Yards redevelopment plans, visit Brooklyn Speaks and make your voice heard.


Cab-driving & Buddhism in NYC

You gotta check out this guy's blog.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Gary Lucas & Colbert Late Nite

So last night we went to the Bowery Poetry Club to hear Gary Lucas. Incredible, albeit at times the sound was way too loud for such a small space. For this one song a singer named Feliz from a NYC-based band Faith joined them and I swear I got chills. Plus, we got to hang out with this new couple. D, an old friend of R's and his wife, D. We went back to their place in the Village and hung out watching a videotape they had of Colbert's roast of Prez Bush. I'd never seen the whole thing, but god was it good.


Friday, September 22, 2006

Encyclopedia Jane: Days of Awe

So tonight at sundown is the start of Rosh Hashanah and since R.'s family is Jewish we're going out to his mother's apartment on Long Island to celebrate. Celebrating apparently (at least in this case) entails: going to a movie tonight and eating large amounts of food tomorrow night.

Of course I wanted to know a little bit more about the holiday and R. seemed unable to provide anything other than "They blow some horn."

So, a quick internet search turned up the following:

Rosh hashanah is the Jewish new year and the start of the Days of Awe, which end in Yom Kippur. (This year Yom Kippur is October 2.) You're supposed to spend this time reflecting on the past year, particularly your sins, so you can repent before Yom Kippur.

A shofar (a ram's horn) is blown in the temple a total of 100 times each day of the Days of Awe, except for Shabat (or friday, which is tonight.) You're not allowed to work on Rosh hashanah (yay!). Although it's a saturday, so it's not like I was going to work anyway.

You're supposed to say, L'shanah tovah, or Happy New Year.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

More Celebrities In Brooklyn

This evening I went to Borough Hall to meet my cousin S. (She's a law student doing an internship at the DA's office and we'd planned to have dinner when she got out of work.) What should I find when I arrive? A bunch of film guys and vans and cameras and all sorts of official looking people standing around.

"What's going on?" I asked a woman to my right.

"They're filming an Adam Sandler movie," she said. "See? That's him there, in the purple jacket."

And so he was. And looking quite svelte, I might add.


The Return of Morning Yoga

I just heard that they're reinstating the 7am yoga class at my local studio! I know it sounds geeky but I'm so excited... Of course it means I'll have to get there at 6:30 to set up for the class, but god did I love working that morning shift. Plus, I'll also have one more free class per week. Sweet.
@##^**$-Up Template

So yeah. All my links and shit are all the way down the page. But I don't have time right now to figure out: 1) what happened; and 2) how to fix it.


Wednesday Confession

My coffee machine broke this morning and I am ashamed at how upset I got. I mean, sure, there's a coffee shop not two doors down from me, but still: not having access to a cup within ten minutes of waking? Having to actually dress and talk to another human being pre-caffeine high? Sigh.

I do fear, though, that this addiction isn't too healthy. I drink on average 3-5 cups every morning, which alone explain my ongoing struggles with insomia.
Blogger Beta Woes Resolved

So now I seem to be able to comment on non-beta blogger sites! Yay! I kinda felt like a kid left behind on a field trip.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

On Ignoring Your Inner Voice

Listen to your body, the yoga teacher says.

Follow your heart, my sister advises.

Heed your inner voice, Hallmark whispers.

Well, for years I’ve been struggling to figure out just what my inner self wants and needs and I think I’ve finally come to the conclusion that my inner voice is full of shit.

Inner Minerva Jane thinks she should sit on the sofa night after night, eating pepperoni pizza and wings and ice cream. She guzzles wine and Mountain Dew and never takes her vitamins. She never goes running or makes it to the yoga classes she knows she loves or does any of the things that make her happy and healthy. She likes bad TV and mind-numbing celebrity mags. (She’s got a special place in her dark heart for Star and People.) She has periodic fits of blinding range that just roll over her, smashing everything and everyone in their wake. She’s prone to envy and sloth and arrogance and forgets to brush her teeth. Worse yet: she spends hours telling me how horrible and worthless I am. That my writing and my dreams will never amount to anything. That I’m a burden on those I love and an irritant to strangers.

So. Why should I listen to her? She’s never done me any good.

Truth is she needs discipline not freedom.

Which is a really long way of saying I’m going to go workout tonight if I like it or not. Even if it’s overcast outside and the cats are all curled up in soft little balls on the sofa. And when I get back I'm going to meditate for at least fifteen minutes before I crawl under the covers. So there, MJ.

Keep yer mouth shut.


Monday, September 18, 2006

Atlantic Antic Clean-Up

So yesterday they basically closed down Atlantic Avenue and had this huge street festival--from the BQE to Atlantic terminal. I ate so much I felt like I was going to explode. Most of it good, except for this weird griddlecake/cornbread mozzerella cheese sandwich.

The weird thing was that the fair closed at about 6 and by 8:30 when I went down to the deli to get some cat food everything was gone. And this morning there was nary a piece of trash to be found. Good old Atlantic Ave back to its bustling self.


Rats Near Washington Square Park

So last Friday night after dinner and drinks and hanging out in our friend D.'s West Village apartment we went to some part of NYU that has this huge Picasso sculpture. We had to cross Washington Square Park at about 3 in the morning and I have to say I have never seen so many rats in one place in my entire life. I'm not talking ten or fifteen or even twenty but more like thirty. Tiny and kinda cute, but still. Rats. I've never been so appalled in my life.


Friday, September 15, 2006

A Favorite Brooklyn Book Store.

Check it out. Plus, they're right next to Starbucks, so. You know.
Brooklyn Book Festival

Tomorrow the borough of Kings is hosting a free book festival right here in the Downtown Area. I'm planning on attending the Jonathen Lethem reading, among others. His Motherless Brooklyn was absolutely amazing.... If you haven't read it, do so immediately. And Fortress of Solitude was good, too, albeit a litte more rambling. Still, nested in the tale is a great portrait of the area realtors are now calling BoCoCa--Boerum Hill/Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens. R and I are a little closer to Manhattan--more like Brooklyn Heights/Cobble Hill, but still close enough for me to feel like I was reading about my own block. Lethem kind of reminds me of a cross between Paul Auster and Michael Chabon.


M's Birthday & Friday Night Fiestas

So today is our friend M's birthday. (33's a good year, I think. A nice vibe. Plus, that's the age Jesus was when he was crucified... So: perhaps this is the year M will start a religion and recruit millions. You just never know.) And since he was here in NYC on business Tuesday-Thursday he decided to stay and spend the weekend with us. Yay! We get to see M two times in one month! I mean that hasn't happened since grad school.

Last night we stayed here in Brooklyn. Ate at Bar Tabac (my local fave) then went to Live Band Karaoke at Magnetic Field--just down the block from us. R sang two songs and was fantastic. (Magnetic Field has Live Band Karaoke every thursday and we've been a couple of times now. R actually practices. There's a group of about ten or so that come just about every week.) It's pretty wild. Check it out if you ever in the area.

And I think tonight we're going to this place called Diablo Royale in the West Village with a whole group. Diablo's got killer margaritas and scrumptioius fish tacos. Afterwards we'll roam Manhattan in our spiffy M-birthday celebration wear. (M's already got a pretty funky belt on, but no--neither R nor I have selected our outfits for the soiree....)

So yeah. Good times.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Thursday 13: Autumn Goals

1. Clean out and fully organize my bedroom closet. (For the past five years this has been a New Year’s resolution but somehow it never gets done.)

2. Go to more literary events (readings) in Manhattan.

3. Complete the first third of my new novel by December 1.

4. Continue sending queries to agents for my first novel, The Jar-Born Sage.

5. Get my haircut by the folks at John Sahag. (Gotta save up, but it’s worth it.)

6. Go through my book collection and see if there are any I can sell or trade. (To make room for more!)

7. Go apple-picking in upstate NY.

8. Create a kick-ass Halloween costume.

9. Have killer abs by Christmas.

10. Learn to knit. (I want to make my own scarf this winter.)

11. Wash my cats every other month. (I think I’m the only person in the world who does this, but with four longhair cats in a two bedroom apartment, it’s a necessity. Plus, I’ve been doing it since they were 8 weeks old, so by now they’re used it. And I swear one even seems to like the warm water!)

12. Bake an apple pie from scratch. (I’ve never done this. Always relied on store-bough crust.)

13. Learn to bake sourdough bread.

If anyone has any recipes and/or advice for the last two, please comment or email me at msminervajane @ earthlink . net!

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Netflix For Handbags

You know every once in a while you run across something that just makes you so happy to be alive. Like this service, which allows you to rent designer handbags through the mail. Not that I'm going to actually use it--cheaper to just buy a bag, but still. It exists.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Burning Man #4: Our Tribe & The Burn

So then this is the last I’ll say about Burning Man then it's on to other topics.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday all followed the same basic pattern: we’d wake at about 9 am when the temperature in our tent reached sauna levels and scramble for the shade structure. There were only about four full reclining chairs and three or four regular chairs. Needless to say the earlier you woke, the better your chances of getting one of the prized “Ultimate Relaxors.” Then we’d nap all day, snacking and chatting the heat of the day away. It was much too hot to venture out into the Sun. Although maybe if I’d known the group before, I’d have been more motivated to go on daylong treks, but these were all M’s friends—some of whom I’d met briefly, others I’d never even heard him mention—and as we drifted in and out of sleep, ate and then ate again, I got to know them pretty well. Such an interesting group, too. Two landscapers. One former dancer/current dental hygiene student. One fashion exec. One systems administrator. One marketing guy. A tech exec. A singer/songwriter. And me and R. Two had lived in NJ for a while and the dancer had spent 10 years in Manhattan, so we compared notes and got some great tips.

Each afternoon around 4 pm we’d mount our bikes and go on a tour around the city. We saw some amazing sculptures, like the giant spider.

And even caught the dusk lamp-lighters one night.

As soon as it started to cool off in earnest off we rode back to camp for dinner and to dress for the night’s journey.

One of the things that struck me during these afternoon jaunts was just how well organized the city was. I mean. I saw no trash left out. No fights. No anger. Every morning the port-a-potties were emptied and cleaned. People waited patiently in line for their turn at the toilet. Neighbors didn’t squabble over space. Bikers carefully avoided eachother.

The first night I wore my vamp outfit only to discover that I was fucking freezing. So I borrowed some leggings and added several layers (along with my nifty tiara) and we were off. I repeated the same process the next two nights. Once we arrived at our destination (uchronia or house of lotus or opulent temple) I’d strip off a layer or two and let the crowd and its movement warm me.

The best part of Burning Man started with these nightly preparations. Together we’d adorn our bikes with similar lights. And together we’d make sure we were all adequately warm and had enough water and candy (essential for trading) and headlights and eyewear (goggles for sudden dust storms) and dust masks.

We were a tribe, you see. As we biked across the Esplanade we’d circle back to make sure everyone was still there. When someone had to pee the whole caravan would pull over to the port-a-potties.

And then came Saturday night. We all got dressed again in our finery. Such a good-looking and well-lit group we were. Off we went to the burning of the man.

The Man stood on a large scaffolding that Burning Man officials had been packing with dynamite all afternoon. By the time we got there the entire area had been cordoned off and hundreds of fire dancers were performing around the base. (Fire dancing, as far as I can tell, is a lot like majorettes but with flames.) It felt tribal. Primitive. Elemental. The drumming and the flames and the shouts from the ground. Like this was some distant cultural memory from the beginning of time. Everyone around us was super-charged, waiting for the moment when the line would be broken and the Man set on fire and we’d all rush in.

And when it happened I was surprised. (When exactly had the effigy caught on fire?) Because one minute I was standing by our group and then the next I was running along the inner-most circle, the fire so hot I was sweating in my skirt and tube top, other people screaming and laughing and tossing things into the fire while we all ran around it in a circle.

I’ve never seen anything like it. Joy. Elation. So pure.

And I have to admit I think something broke off in me at that point.

You see, my whole life I’ve held myself so tightly. Because I was shy and just a little afraid and so nervous about who I was. But to see so many people rejoicing at this ritual, so many prepared to trek out to the desert and spend thousands of dollars and hours to create massive works of art only to destroy them at the end—and to destroy with abandon and joy and hope…


You see a thing like that and you start to think that maybe that personality you’d been holding onto so tightly was just a façade, too. That maybe if you tossed your mask into the flames and didn’t worry so much that things would turn out okay. Maybe things would even be easier.

I finally pushed my way out of the crowd near the Opulent Temple and walked back to where our group was sitting. (Only a few of us ventured closer to the Burn. The others chose to watch the swirling crowd from a distance.)

This was the same sort of thing I’d been feeling all week. The same epiphany four nights in a row—bam bam bam BAM. And then a weird inner voice that sounded strangely like Doris Lessing quoting Rilke: “There is nothing here which does not see you. You must change your life.”

And so I am. Although I doubt anyone but R and maybe a few close friends will even notice the difference. It’s my attitude, you see. The way I think about myself and those around me.

I’m not afraid anymore.

I mean. I’m not afraid anymore. And I don’t really feel quite so alone.

I’ll be back next year. And the year after and the one after that. Someday with my child. And then with two. On down the line.

Oh. They’ve announced the theme for 2007. The Green Man.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Flying Into NYC On The 5 year Anniversary of 9/11

I was scared shitless this morning. When we made the reservations I didn't think twice.
We flew into O'hare on Saturday (after a brief detour at a good friend's bridal shower on Long Island) and stayed at the Hilton on Grants Park. The next morning there was a 5k race in the park to support prostate cancer. (Our first client was the cancer foundation my parents' set up a few years ago. We (meaning R and I) still produce materials for them--and help with the occasional conference--so we went out to show our support and to help run the table.) My time? 24:53. It was cold. And rainy. And windy. Afterwards we went to the Field Museum to see the King Tut exhibit. Which was kind of a let-down. Then to dinner at Greek Islands in Greektown. Which was fabulous. I ate too much and had this dessert called ambrosia--walnuts and honey and shredded philo and ice cream. They rolled me home. Yeah.

Then today: a 9 am flight from Chicago to LaGuardia. Last night I told my Dad that I didn't think anything would happen. I mean, if the Terrorists really wanted to hit us it wouldn't be by plane. It'd be train or boat or the water supply or some way we weren't fucking expecting it, right? Take your enemy by suprise. But my Dad? My mild-mannered trail running scientist-dad says: "Well, on the other hand." And he pauses. Takes a bite of his fish. "It would really show us up if they hit NY again by plane, now wouldn't it? I've been up all night. Worrying." So you see how some of my anxieties are learned, no? Not all inherited.

Our flight was cancelled because of severe thunder storms. We were rescheduled on a later flight.

I had some tortilla soup from the Wolfgang Puck stand. Then we took off. The flight was half empty. The stewardesses were all blonde and heavily made-up. Very midwest, I thought. I slept. We landed. Nothing.

And when I got home? I kissed each of the cats and took a stroll around the neighborhood. It was so calm. So peaceful. Sunlight filtering through like in a dream

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Burming Man #3: Interludes & Backtracks

Before I delve into the craziness of last weekend, the meat of my Burning Man adventure, I have to add one little element I neglected to write about. (Don't worry: I'll wrap up the chronicle by Monday. Then I'll post about my current trip: I'm writing from a hotel in downtown Chicago.)

Shortly after we arrived that Wednesday, two men set up camp next to us. They had a shade structure and a little Buffet-style bar. Here's a picture. You can't see the bar, but it's on the other side of the white tent thingy.

They also had a fire pit (self-contained, of course: Leave No Trace) and we all gathered around it for a bit, introducing ourselves and chatting about our lives in the Default World.

One of our neighbors was a now-retired Internet millionaire. He couldn’t have been more than 40, maybe 45. He and his friend had just finished camping somewhere down near Lake Tahoe and then had gotten fitted for custom ski boots before heading on up to Black Rock City.

They asked what we did for a living. The others—techies & landscape designers & marketing guys—took their turns and then it was my turn.

What did I do? Or, as the question always implies: what am I? With which “Camp” do I identify myself? Am I an academic? An accountant? An artist? A teacher? A stripper?

Well, I started to say, my husband and I have a small media imaging company and we write press releases and website copy but also write copy for and design brochures, etc etc blah etc blah etc blah. Which is technically true.

But something just fucking didn’t feel right but before I could say anything—I mean I think I was in mid-inhale--my good friend M. jumped right in and said “No!”—like a knight he was, I swear!—“She’s a writer. She wrote this novel called The Jar-Born Sage, he wrote one, too”—pointing of course to R. He stopped and looked straight at me. “They’re writers.” (It was his eyes. They were outraged. What was I saying?)

Oh yeah. M. had me caught out. What had I been doing? After all this time, after all the sacrifices I’d made, all the things I’d done over the years to carve out enough time and space to work, all that effort spent feng shui-ing my mind so that I could birth first that novel, so that I could make room for the one now gestating, here I was denying it all! In a blink of an eye! Blithely. Like it was nothing. Like a Judas I was. Identifying myself not by who I am but by how I earn my money, how I pay my rent.

But this is how I came to Burning Man, you see—only a week and a half ago, but it seems like eons… That first novel hasn’t sold yet. I’m 33, soon to be 34. I’m starting the next book, but: my metaphorical bones are older and when it rains parts of my body ache.

But now? After I saw the things I saw there? After the things I felt?

I’m a writer. That’s what I am.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Minerva Jane's An Idiot.

So before I left for Burning Man I decided to switch from blogger to blogger beta. Why? Well, they promised cool features. Snazzy features. But of course I didn't check out what those features were nor did I look to see if there were any drawbacks. (This is a trend for me right now. Read the post below about setting up camp at Black Rock desert and you'll see what I mean). Anyway, the point is that I can't comment using my name, Minerva Jane, nor my cute blog picture, on any non-blogger beta sites.

I'll still be traveling along to my favorite blogs and commenting as I go but instead of nifty ID, you'll see a little minerva jane scribbled in the corner of the post.

And don't switch you own blogs, whatever you do. At least until they work out all the little kinks.
Reconstructing Burning Man, #2: Setting Up @ 9:20 & Guess

This is Part II of a series on my recent trek to the annual Burning Man fete in Nevada's Black Rock desert. If you haven't read the first segment yet, scroll on down and take a look.

[Note: All photos courtsey of the lovely Liz S. Why? It's a long-ass story, and well. Because.]

At dusk we finally found a spot at about 9:20 between Fate and Guess. Black Rock City is set up like a semi-circular clock—the wicker effigy, the Man, in the center and the avenues (2:00, 3:00, 4:30, etc) extend like rays around him. Streets are positioned like concentric circles and move out from the center to create makeshift neighborhoods. This year the names of the streets reflected the festival’s theme—future as the sum of our hopes and fears. (Destiny, Eager, Fate). The inner-most street, the Esplanade, is home to theme camps, dance clubs and art installations. (There was even a roller skating rink on the Esplanade—which came in handy. One of our camp-mates was the Washington State State Rollerskating Champion two years in a row and we finally pressured him into showing us his moves.)

So. Everything centers around the playa, pictured below. And on the playa are massive installation pieces, roving art cars, Center camp (where you can buy ice and coffee), and The Man.

It took us a while to find the right spot: we needed a big enough space for the others who were due to arrive later that night and the next day and we didn’t want to be too close to any thumping music. (Some of the camps played techno nonstop all five days we were there. Annoying enough two streets away, but it would have been hellish right next door.)

In the desert, as soon as the sun disappears, the air gets cold very quickly. So, in the dark and quickly icy air, we quickly set up our shade structure and three tents.

Now, R. and I used to have our own tent, but last year when we moved to Brooklyn we made the mistake of leaving it in our trunk overnight and the thing was stolen. (The latch on our trunk was smashed in the process so that we still can’t open it from the outside but need to use the lever on the driver’s side.) So we borrowed my parents’ old tent and, in the chaos around our departure we both neglected to open set it up on a trial run. Big mistake. They’re not the neatest nor most careful people, and last time they’d used this tent they’d packed it away wet. We unrolled it to find a stinky, mildewed mess. But okay. No big deal. We were in a desert. Probably the best place to dry out a moist tent. Right. Ah. But there was more. We had the wrong poles! So for about thirty minutes, M. and his two engineer friends struggled to figure out: 1) why the poles weren’t fitting this particular tent, and 2) how we could possibly make them fit. A few slits in the tent’s sides, a MacGyver-like geri-rig later and our tent was fully standing and fully roped down, secured with rebar hammered into the desert crust. (Desert winds can be brutal, I was told.) Otherwise we’d have had to turn around and head back to the Gerlach motel. M brought inflatable mattresses and we shoved those into our tents, tossed our sleeping bags on top and turned toward the already glittering city.

It was too late to get dressed up. Plus, we were still tired from the 7 hour drive from SF.

So we took our bikes down from the racks, decorated them with a few coils of glo-sticks, duct-taped flashlights to the handlebars and headed on out into the night. We took a quick tour around—first to visit the Man, then to take a quick peek at an installation piece/dance club we started calling The Waffle. (By Thursday night Uchronia, as we later learned it was called, was mostly set up and each night at dusk massive green lights shone up through its beams.) I felt like I was standing inside a giant’s game of pick-up sticks.

It was a quiet night and we spent hours cruising through half dark sandy streets, calling ahead to M2, the group’s fastest biker, as we darted from one loud party and flashing cluster of lights to another.

And then, at about midnight or maybe later (somehow, each night I'd think it was a few hours earlier or later than it actually was... I'd never been in the fucking ballpark) someone led me into this weird crowd just standing there in the dark, looking at the sky. I looked back at M and M2 and N who all just smiled, nodding gleefully. What the hell? I mouthed. Silence. Then whooossssshhh and above me gaps in a giant steel structure erupted into flames. It was a massive dragon, and the flames its vertebrae. Festooned partgoers all around me were equally agape, hundreds of us oohing and ahhing at the eddying light, all of us nestled together against the dragon's sizzling spine.

Tomorrow: The Bike Gang Forms, LED Lights & House of Lotus

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Reconstructing Burning Man

I'm still feeling like shit--how does one get the flu in the desert??--but don't want to put off writing about Buring Man for too long lest the details skitter away like desert sand.

So I'm going to do this slowly, in parts, over several days. Pictures will come later. Due to several personal (uh. sloth) and financial (uh. we're broke) I'm still digital camera-less, but no worries, pictures of Vacaville and some of Burning Man will arrive shortly.

As you all know, R. and I spent several days in Vacaville visiting my sister where she lives on a lesbian owned and operated organic farm. The chicks I met there were all very interesting and intelligent. The surrounding ranchers were also unexpected. One conversation I overheard: rancher X says to organic farmer A., "You know when people ask me how I can take a whole herd of cattle I've spent such long hours caring for to slaughter, I say I see them as objects, as commodities. But when that cow died this morning--in breach, lost the calf too, I realized there must have been something else to it. It ruined my whole fucking day. Even now--" and here he looked out over the clear-skied Pleasants Valley--"I can't get it out of my mind. So there must be something." All this while picking peaches.

Sunday night our friend M. drove out to Vacavillle and spent the night and next morning with us. Then he and R. drove west to Napa to go wine tasting. I stayed behind with my sister and worked in the fields beside the others that afternoon and the entire next day. There was a seductive meditative quality to the work--picking and packing and moving down one row to the next. The hot sun beating down and talking quietly with your co-workers. But I don't know if I could have done it a third day. By that night my fingers were all cut and dirty, my nails ripped, my back sunburnt. I was so tired I just collapsed onto that bed in the camper-van. (G. lives in a yurt. R. and I stayed in an empty camper van further toward the creek.)

On Tuesday evening G. drove me back into SF and we met R. and M. at the Marina where M. was playing in his weekly volleyball game. We ate Thai food and then G. headed back east to Pleasants Valley. I showered, had a glass of wine from the bottle R. and M. had brought back from Napa and helped the boys load up our van and car with more than enough supplies for five days in the desert. (Hmmm. Four cases of baby-wipes. What did they think was going to happen out there…?.) My mind was racing--with the things I'd learned out at the farm and about what to expect tomorrow at Burning Man.

But also: a weird sense of urgency... that I was at the edge of something. And that it was almost too late. For what I had no idea. I'm still not entirely sure, but... Well more on that later.)

I collapsed onto the blow-up mattress M. had set up for us in his office. I fell asleep thinking about the years past--about grad school when many a night M. and R. and I had stayed up all hours drinking and smoking pot and talking about literature and art and TV and people in our classes and whatever the fuck came up and then years later when the three of us had joined together to form a makeshift publishing company called Collective 3 and published a single book, In Thirds, with excerpts of my novel, R.'s novel, and M.'s poetry. How good that had felt and how much I'd missed my friend since he'd moved to SF. And how even though we still get to saw him several times a year--more than we ever did in Cville--it still never seems like enough time.

We were friends, true, but really more like family. Kindred spirits, I suppose, but that sounds too trite, too Ann of Green Gables. And now we were heading into the desert to seek our visions together. I honestly don't think we would have gone out to Black Rock with anyone else. But when M. says something's important. Well, we both just trust there must be something to it.

And then it was light. But that kind of weak SF light, barely there, soft and dim. Tiptoeing in on little cat paws….

We loaded the last of our gear into the van, downed a few espressos (I think I've mentioned before that M. has an espresso machine in his apartment) and went over to pick up his friend, N. N. is an Israeli, a fellow SF-techie, and had gone to Burning Man with M. last year. A soft-spoken, intelligent man who's not only seen more than his share of fighting but has also traveled the world… Getting to know N. was one of the most unexpectedly wonderful things about the trip.

I got into the van with M., R. hopped into the car with N., and we were off, down Route 80 toward Reno where were to pick up M2 at his parents’ house. Talking with M. for the four-hour trip to Reno was a relief. I've been kind of lonely here in NYC this past year.... Meeting people in a new city when you work at home isn't the easiest. And to find myself sitting next to someone who knows me so well, who loves me despite my myriad eccentricities… Well. I’m sure you all know how it goes. He's known me long enough, knows my family, R., R's family, so that I don't have to waste time explaining the details of stories. I can launch straight into reflection, straight into the meat of a tale. Straight into how my view of something or someone has changed and why. That's the best thing about old friends, I suppose: that you don't have to provide back-story. They already know what's happened before and how it affected you. Usually better than you do.

Then we arrived in Reno and picked up M2. M2's parents own a cleaning business and their garage, where the coolers were being stored, was lined with cleaning supplies and products. I was still a little sleepy (I'd started to nod off a little by the time we'd reached Truckeee) but remember leaning over a cooler of dry ice, then gazing up to look at M2 as he spoke, seeing rows of cleaners and megarolls of trash bags angling away from his head like in some hybrid supermarket. Eerie.

We were off. East of Reno then due north into the desert. Soon we were on a one-lane road, desert to our left and right, sandy mountain ridges around us. When we cruised past Pyramid Lake in Piute country, M. called us on the walkie-talkie (after Reno he hopped in with N. and R. and I drove the rest of the way together) to say, hey, shit, look at that desert mirage.) The icy blue water danced past us. It was getting hotter. The sun brighter and sharper than I’d ever seen before.

And then we hit Gerlach. We stopped for gas and a soda and to pee. People were congregated outside. Everyone all excited and every once in a while a chick decked out in a funky hat strolled by. All anticipation. All nervous chatter. I bought some pretzels and devoured them. I was on the edge of a strange pool just aching to jump in.

We got back into our cars and drove the remaining fifteen miles to Burning Man. Our walkie-talkies were crossing channels with another caravan. A stranger told a story about friends of his who, after Burning Man, settled in Gerlach for two years and had a baby out here. So what's worse, this stranger queried: To choose Gerlach or to be born into Gerlach. A few miles out we saw a massive dust storm kick up on the desert floor. By the time we hit the line of cars snaking back from the gates, the storm was in full force and we stalled. For two hours we stood still. Talking back and forth with our walkie-talkies, then donning our goggles and dust masks, we headed out into the make-shift parking lot.

I saw cars altered to look like metallic armadillos with six-foot penises, women wearing cowboy boots and little bitty skirts, their bare breasts painted to look like pursed mouths. I saw a man saunter past, his ripped T-shirt barely covering his naked groin and others with full gas masks, covered in sand and leather and metal. All against a whited-out landscape. Everyone wearing gas masks and dust masks and full goggles. MadMax meets Tatouine.

Dance music thrummed through me.

Where was I? What kind of place had M. taken us to?

Finally the dust settled enough for us to see across the desert to the mass of tents huddled together and the lights, strobe and day-glo and bright as hell, just beginning to gleam in the darkening air. We inched our cars forward to the gate. R. rolled down his window and a man, dressed in an exact replica of Britney Spears’ naughty catholic schoolgirl’s outfit leaned in and drawled, “Welcome Home.”

Tomorrow: We settle in. 9:20 between Fate and Guess.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I'm Back. Kind Of.

We flew from SF back to Newark last night.

Burning Man was an amazing mixture of carnivale, Grateful dead show, and dance club, all set on an otherworldly Tatouinian stage.

The most amazing part was the Saturday night denouement: hundreds of firedancers twirling in the center around the Man, until finally they burned the effigy and we all spun around the flames, laughing and dancing and wow.

But right now I'm sick as a dog. Bad head cold. Throat scratchy.

I've been sleeping all day and am going to crawl back under the covers in about two seconds.

More as the week goes on.