September 2007 Archives

more linkery

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Steven Ward interviewed me about Reading Comics for

A kind review at Stop Smiling.

Digging myself out. More of substance later.

Seattle, and press

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I’ll be reading at University Bookstore in Seattle next Wednesday, September 19, at 7 PM.

Andrea Hoag has kind things to say about Reading Comics in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

A good review from Jean Rogers, too!

closed-circuit only

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I'd say "hey, is anybody in my readership a Movable Type expert?"... but, of course, MT4 has broken my RSS feed, among other things.

So here's a very useful 69-second-long instructional film, and thanks to Indri for bringing it to my attention:

temporary inconvenience, folks

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As you may have noticed, things are… a little weird here right now. Just installed Movable Type 4, and probably won’t have the opportunity to fix everything that’s gone hideously wrong for another week or two. In the meantime, enjoy the pretty Portland cityscape.

fanboy radio interview

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Just a quick note (and test of my new Movable Type setup): there's an interview with me on the most recent episode of Fanboy Radio, <a href= target=_blank>here</a>.

back from big dust city

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I got back from Burning Man on Tuesday afternoon; it's taken me this long to write up notes because I came back very, very tired--I've been sleeping at least ten hours every day, and just starting to feel something like normal again. I've discovered that I'm pretty good at sleep deprivation, but that debt does mount up.

My main personal project this year was a two-part thing. I printed up a set of stickers from the Black Rock City Department of Requests, labeled "ASK ME"; I'd go up to people and tell them that I was from the Dept. of Requests, and needed to know what they wanted people to ask them. ("What do you mean?" "Oh, whatever you want people to ask you, or ask you for, or ask you about, or ask you if you'd like, or...") I filled it out with whatever their response was and peeled it off for them to stick on themselves. Then I gave them the other part: a little business-card-sized card labeled "I would prefer not to." It was good for getting out of whatever could reasonably be gotten out of, I explained, and giving it to someone meant you weren't just refusing a request, you were giving a gift...

This project didn't break open people's brains the way last year's permission-slip project did, in general, although it led to some good long conversations and fun interactions. (Late in the week, in Center Camp, there was a guy wearing a sign on his back that said "Beautiful women of the playa: Please stop asking me to make out." I surreptitiously stuck an "ASK ME... to make out" sticker on top of it.) I meant to write down what people wanted to be asked, and gave up quickly: one step too many when everybody's overheating. "Ask me for a hug" was by far the most popular response.

Lisa sent along a project of her own: "The Book of Fantastic Creatures," a blank book (inside a box) in which people were instructed to draw imaginary animals for Sterling. We got some beautiful ones, and the result has gone over very well with him.

This year I was camped (along with Playa Megastar Jess) in the misleadingly named Techno Ghetto--not a big techno camp, more a technology camp--at the back end of Illumination Village, which was mostly occupied by the Flaming Lotus Girls and their affiliates. It's always good to be camped next to somebody who can whack together a functional house with air conditioning in 12 minutes flat out of a pile of cardboard slabs, some 2x4s and a screw-gun, and looks good in a little pink ye-ye dress. Plus they let me operate Mini Mega.

IllVille itself was particularly well-equipped this year--not only did we have a shower with hot water & water pressure (!), we had a genuine sculptural installation to evaporate the gray water--the "Fountain of Filth," it was called. (The off-his-rocker guy who stumbled into the common area of the village to yell at the fire, Raymond-and-Peter style--"don't talk to me about the goddamn cocaine!"--was later seen attempting to brush his teeth with the F. of F. Eww.) And, as a result of Dan Das Mann misweighting a crane and accidentally crushing two portapotties' shells, we had two portapotties of our own... with crushed shells, but functional, and still being serviced. I put up a sign on them: "Elimination Village."

One day there was a massive dust storm--I was out on the playa when it hit, and stumbled into Center Camp completely caked in dust. Whereupon a gaggle of French maids in little frilly outfits descended on me with their feather dusters: "Oh la LA! Dusty boy! Dusty boy!"

I brought along a Polaroid camera and about 90 pieces of film. Mostly, when I saw somebody looking fabulous, I'd ask them if they wanted a Polaroid of themselves looking fabulous, and give them one. But I also went into Center Camp a couple of times, and when I saw people who'd fallen asleep in particularly embarrassing positions or situations, I'd leave a picture for them to find when they woke up...

A project a few of my friends did with their camp (Black Rock City Animal Control): about 30 of them would hover around near a bank of portapotties, and their leader would point someone out as he/she entered one and closed the door. Then they'd roll out a red carpet leading up to the door of the portapotty and line up along both sides; as soon as the victim came out, they'd all burst into cheers and applause. The victim would of course instantly look to both sides to figure out how to get away... but there was no way to get away. So the victim would walk down the red carpet to hysterical cheers and paparazzi camera-flashes, be presented at the end of it with a T-shirt saying "WINNER! BURNING MAN 2007," and then everyone would yell "speech! speech! speech!" until the victim said something like "I never thought this morning when I woke up that I could... WIN Burning Man!" Whereupon everyone would cheer and disband and somebody would tell the victim "okay, kid, your fifteen minutes are over, get lost."

The art: By general agreement, not as awesome as last year's--nothing on the order of the Waffle was around (although somebody in Center Camp instigated a collaborative mini- Waffle made out of popsicle sticks). Everybody liked Big Rig Jig (two huge tanker trucks suspended on end); everybody liked the monkeys swinging in the tree (a strobe-light illusion along the lines of the Swimming Man a few years ago). Swarm was fantastic. The replica of Astor Place's subway station--complete with replica of Tony Rosenthal's "The Alamo" rotating in front of it--was a very funny idea. A lot of people liked Dan Das Mann's "Crude Awakening," a group of seven figures prostrating themselves before a gigantic oil rig. (I wasn't so fond of it, although the massive oil explosion they blew it up with was a nice touch.) But other than that? Not a lot of mindblowers, and not a lot of "what a cool little idea," either. Some years are better than others.

The deep-deep-deep playa, where I like to go biking around at night, was particularly grim--I went around biking toward anything with a blinking or glowing light, and it was running about 3 parts half-baked or wind-ruined art installations to 1 part people making out to 1 part people making out on half-baked art installations to 1 part lonely abandoned glow-sticks. Occasionally I felt a little like an abandoned glow-stick myself. But it was good to have lots of space to bike around in; this was an unusually solitary year for me, but that wasn't a bad thing.

On Tuesday, I think, I was roped into a game of Jeopardy that turned out to be... strip Jeopardy. In front of an audience. I won, mostly thanks to my knowledge of Harry Potter, palindromes and Burning Man lore. (Answer I was most perversely proud of: "The African savannah is located here." "What is Africa?") My swag: a bunch of tacky plastic crap, a pair of handcuffs without a visible key, and a couple of nice little things that I brought home as Sterling-toys.

The music scene was a little more solidly thumpy-thumpy than it's been in the last few years, or maybe I'm just inured to the variety now. (Don't know how I feel about the trend of celebrity DJs at Opulent Temple etc.--I don't think I like the idea of there being a featured attraction, if you see what I mean.) I DJ'ed four times on BMIR (best moment: playing Bobby Byrd's "Hot Pants--I'm Coming, Coming, I'm Coming" and looking out the window to see a whole bunch of people dancing around in the courtyard), and was also supposed to DJ one night at Groovelab, but the equipment never came through. Oh well. Otherwise, I didn't play very much music in public; one of the key words for this year's plan was "inflict," as in I didn't want to inflict myself or my tastes on people who didn't want to experience them.

The thing a lot of people have asked me out since I've gotten home is the early burn of the Man--it was burned Monday night/Tuesday morning during the lunar eclipse. My answer: it wasn't as funny or as important as you'd guess if you weren't around for it. Everyone figured that someone would do it eventually (and there's been an unofficial bounty for an early burn for years), but the way the guy did it was a total dick move: think "arson on an occupied structure." DPW et al. responded by building a second Man in two days, bless 'em. A handful of post-burn jokes were circulating--my favorite was a T-shirt that said "8/28 Was an Inside Job," and there was a sign that said "8/28: Never Forget."

But the early burn didn't exactly send massive shock waves through the event--people who were there were generally treating it as just another nutty thing in Black Rock City (toward the end of the week, people were much more likely to be chatting about the massive sandstorms or the Ashram Galactica or the two new streets that had been added to deal with the population explosion of the city etc.). Still, I imagine that security is going to have to be ramped up in the future, which is not going to make anybody happy. The way things have been set up for years is built to absorb lots of pranks, but it's also built on the assumption that nobody's going to pull a total dick move.

The rate of growth of the event is no longer sustainable, I'm starting to suspect--50,000 people (and maybe more) have to drain out of it on a single lane of a two-lane highway, and getting out of Black Rock City has become a three-to-five-hour nightmare. If it grows by another 20% next year, what the hell are they going to do?

Most perfect moment of the week: one afternoon, after a hellacious duststorm, followed by a bit of rain, there was a rainbow that was triple and maybe quadruple: a full arc, then a space, then a giant megarainbow that repeated its color sequence two or three times. Everyone cheered. Then three of my campmates and I went off to the steam bath on the other side of the playa, and got there just in time for the line to get in to be two people instead of 30 people, which is what it was two minutes later.

Other highlights:

*The text on the "Burma Shave" signs going into the city, which began this year with a wicked little rhyme about Burner burnout that I realized a dozen or so lines in was meant to be sung to the tune of "Gee, Officer Krupke." [Oh, here it is! And it was written in 1996!]

*My friends Stuart and Julie and their omnipresent Cthulhu hand-puppet--they decided at some point early in the week that I must have cloned myself, since I was handing out stickers & cards everywhere they went--also, Julie repaired my borrowed bike something like five separate times on Monday (the front inner tube blew twice).

*Meeting Jess's friend Dorothy, and giving her the outfit I was wearing, which looked better on her than it did on me.

*The final year of Piss Clear, whose sense of humor I miss already.

*Someone coming up to me and giving me an incredible raw-food flaxseed cone containing coconut and mango and tamarind sauce and I'm not sure what else was in it because my eyes were rolling back in my head from sheer culinary joy.

*People-watching. Oh, my God, the people-watching. Remove everything else but that from Burning Man and I'd still go every year.

*Stopping to remind myself to look at the mountains, or the moon.