Monday, December 14, 2009

Pimpin'

Walking down Fremont today (I'm in Seattle for the next two weeks, by the way), I happened to walk past this phenomenal, psychedelic stretch limo and thought I would share it with the world.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Foucault's Pendulum

I'm reading Foucault's Pendulum right now. I've had a pretty good track record with Umberto Eco and, well, it's important to read pretentious books on occasion so as to have something to talk about at cocktail parties.

It's been a pretty fun read so far. It's what you would refer to as, I believe, a "literary detective story". The protagonist and his friends have spent pretty much the entirety of the book exploring ancient texts, reading about (and generating) conspiracy theories involving the Rosicrucians, the Templars, Masons, and myriad other secret societies. Think of it as a more intellectually respectable Da Vinci Code, perhaps.

It's pretty engaging. The characters are, for the most part, quite aware of the absurdities of the theories they're generating, of the ridiculous coincidences and leaps of faith that are required to make these stories seem even remotely plausible. There's a sense of ironic self-awareness that lets me read and enjoy farcical stories about deeply buried eschatological secrets and obscure rites without shame.

Even so, though, with Eco's carefully guarded framing of his story, and fully aware that I shouldn't be taking it seriously, I have no idea what's going on. I'm enjoying myself, but the conspiracy theory has me completely lost. For some reason, there's something important that's supposed to happen every 120 years, and I don't know why (or what). The Rosicrucians are maybe real or maybe just an insidious rumor? I don't know. Certain years being divisible by nine is very important, and the transition from Julian to Gregorian calendar is a very Big Deal. I think.

I'm pretty sure that there's some internal consistency here, that there's a coherent (if farcical) logic to the whole story. I just clearly don't have the right mindset to be able to internalize this kind of reasoning. I suspect that, if somebody were to present me with real, incontrovertible evidence of a deep, overarching conspiracy theory in real life, I wouldn't be able to process it.

I think, for the most part, this is a good thing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Emotions

I wish I could trust my emotions.

I don't want to depend on my intellect to filter my experiences, to tell me what feelings are valid. When I feel something, I want to know it's real. If I feel awful and depressed and sad then, by God, I want to know that I'll look back on this day and remember it for what it really was. Remember the frustration, the anger, remember why.

I want to always know why it was that I felt so much love for you. Why this day just felt so goddamned right. How beautiful, how gorgeous, how empty that mountainside was, tumbling away beneath me under the pitch-black night. How utterly alone and scared I felt that one time, lying in bed, worrying about my life.

It was real, then. It was real.

These are my experiences. This is my life.

I want it to be real. I want it to last.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Burning Man Part 2: Things to do

It's amazing the things you see as you walk aimlessly around the Playa. Icthyosaur skeletons lie abandoned in the desert, a short walk away from a dance area ringed by the word LOVE, playing Sinatra tunes at all hours of the night. A naked man doing a performance piece with an array of blue and white umbrellas, the Hug Deli, where for the price of a compliment you can get your choice of an array of hugs (I got the Beverly Hills Air Kiss; L got the Gangsta Hug), an enormous, interactive Rubik's Cube.

An enormous, steampunk house on wheels. Rolling around the desert, occasionally stopping to disgorge an army of Victorian-era passengers, the Neverwas Haul was one of the more impressive Art Cars that drifted slowly across the cityscape. As the only motorized vehicles allowed in Black Rock City, the cars frequently serve as mobile dance parties, drifting around the cityscape festooned with glowing lights and attractive dancers. The Neverwas Haul was certainly one of the more impressive, but hardly the only car of interest. A giant, glowing rubber duck nearly ran us over one night, and an enormous reticulated bus done up as a sailing ship offered tours of the major art installations. A glowing mustache floated around, offering people rides (teehee) and an enormous birthday cake was there for your special birthday rides.

A minigolf course with toy dinosaurs and a motley assortment of obstacles because what better way to spend a week in the desert than by hitting Tom Cruise in the nuts with a golf ball?


And the rocket. The Rocket! Three stories tall, resting majestic on its launchpad, a fabulous relic of a grand, Buck-Rogersesque space age, laden with alien specimens, exotic launch controls and artists discussing in all earnestness how they intended to launch the vessel Friday night. They were working with "students from a New Zealand university", and were expecting to get a good one to three feet of altitude with their new, plasma-baffle rocket technology. I suppose it's not too surprising the number of people who believed them (including a particularly credulous Australian who warned us to keep our credit cards safely stowed away on the day of the launch).

No launch, of course, but a magnificent fireworks and pyrotechnics display to impress even the most jaded pyromaniac. (Tuesday evening, by the way, we were graced by an enormous display of fireworks at midnight, unannounced, and for no apparent reason).

... and there, in the background, nestled behind the elaborate, wire-frame artwork. A slide. An enormous slide. Three stories tall, twenty feet wide, and covered in astroturf. Grab a sheet of plastic, run to the top, jostle your way to the front, and barrel down in to a pile of large, foam blocks. No rules, no guidelines, so be careful not to collide with the slow-going guy ahead of you, who refused to get out of the way even as L yelled out warning. Stick around at the bottom for a few minutes to throw blocks back in to the pile for the benefit of the daring souls coming down behind you and marvel at the structure before moving on.

Admire the giant bunny and the giant birds' nest. Climb up inside it if you want to, relax on a couch, and look down over the expanse of desert.

Wander over to Thunderdome. Thunderdome, one of the more famous, longer-running institutions at Black Rock City. An excuse to break out of the happy, friendly, giving vibe of the institution. A chance to dangle from the ceiling on an elastic cable and beat the crap out of an opponent with a foam bat as bloodthirsty spectators crawl on the top of your geodesic cage and cheer you on. Two cheerleaders with a grudge to settle, a man dressed as the Green Lantern challenging yours truly, dressed as the Tick, to a duel, anyone. Climb in, let out your inner, violent psycopath and fight.

Not really my thing, I'll admit -- I've never found violent spectator sports particularly engaging and I walked away after two bouts. But climbing up on that dome, feeling the raging energy of the crowd around me. That was cool.

Too many other things to list. Just too many. I never got a picture of Root Society or Opulent Temple, the two major dance clubs that ship massive soundsystems, stages, and infrastructure to the middle of the desert and provide a huge, throbbing, week-long dance party.

I can't describe the genuine, moving, powerful experience I had in the Temple. Walking through the lotus-shaped building, looking at the memorials and testimonies that people had written to friends and family passed or passing, I was caught up and my normal, cheerful, cynical facade just dropped. I wish I had been there to watch it burn.

Too much else to list. Too much.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Burning Man Part 1: Praise

I was more than a little annoyed in the weeks leading up to our departure. I'd been given a good idea of what to expect from my friend F, who'd previously attended. Bring lip balm, sun screen, goggles, and saline nasal spray, she told us. Oh, and ex-lax. "Trust me".
The event is held in the middle of the desert, in the remotest possible part of Nevada. Occasionally the winds will pick up, raising huge clouds of dust to the point of white-out. Dust, by the way, which burns the skin due to its high alkali content.

The event organizers provide almost nothing in the way of services. When you show up, you're presented with a city layout, portapotties, and a place to buy coffee and ice. That's it. Attendees are responsible for their own food, water, supplies, everything.

And then there was the back of the ticket, which warned me in no uncertain terms that by attending, I was risking "serious injury or death".

I was so, so ready to be disappointed, and I mean that sincerely, without purpose of dramatic embellishment. I was pissed.

And this is what we encountered when we entered the gate, while waiting in a four-hour line to get inside.

Great.


But I was there, ticket in hand, supplies bought, and determined to give it a fair shot. After all, the alternative was to hop right back in the car and take that 14-hour car drive right back home.

The yurt provided my first moment of joy. We'd met up with our friends F and K, Voltroning our camps together to form a larger, more awesome super-camp, and K had done research into "hexayurts", a popular shade structure built entirely about of insulative siding and super-sticky tape.

It took us a day of dedicated labor, battling the high winds, dust, and complete lack of knowledge about how the hell the damn thing was supposed to fit together.


But we did it. And then, when we were done, we had a big, roomy, shaded area to rest in for the rest of our time there. And man, did I get attached to that yurt. It was a palatial enclosure, sheltered from the wind, heat, and, most importantly of all, dust. We spent hours upon hours in there, hiding from the windstorms, playing Outburst, and talking about nothing in particular.

I feel more attached to that damn yurt than to most of the apartments I've ever lived in.


Halfway through construction, we heard a cry coming from the nearby street: "Screwdrivers! Screeeeeeeeeeewdrivers!"

Two handsome gentlemen, clad in aprons and nothing else (nudity, you may have heard, being an important component of the event) were walking by, wheeling an ice chest and cooler, providing screwdrivers to anyone who wanted them.

This was my first real exposure to the Gift Economy, and it was weird. Attendees at Burning Man are not supposed to engage in commerce of any sort. No buying. No bartering. No trading. If you show up, you're expected to have something to provide to the community, and you're supposed to provide it willingly to the community, with no expectation of payment or compensation. This was, by far, the thing I was most expected to be disappointed by.

But, by god, it worked, and it was truly unsettling to experience. By and large, most people's gifts were small things -- stickers and medallions were popular. But then person after person would offer you free beer or ice cream and walk away, not even waiting for you to say thank you. Our next door neighbor brought a portable shower on his truck, trucking in 500 gallons of water with him to provide the gift of cleanliness. Other people provided elaborate pancake breakfasts.

And the art, of course, was a form of gifting. Massive structures carted in from hundreds of miles away. Multi-stage dance clubs, pumping out music and light at all hours in the morning. Lessons in tassel twirling, swing sets, mini-golf courses, free hug booths, incredible mobile art cars, flame-thrower shooting galleries, clothing boutiques. All provided by the attendees, without any thought of compensation, purely to contribute to the event.

I didn't expect it to work. I thought it would be a sham, a cute attempt at social bonding that would quickly backfire and fall apart.

But it worked. It really did. I was amazed.

Next post: pictures!
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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Burning Man Preview

I went to Burning Man recently with Joe and L. It was pretty fantastic, and I intend to write about the highlights in more detail when time allows. (Don't worry, readers of Joe's blog: some of my highlights will be totally different from his! And I have different pictures.)

At the moment, though, I'm involved in packing up my cute little studio apartment (how I'll miss you!), looking for apartments in LA (long story, but I don't yet have a place to live for the coming school year and I'm going to be in town in four days), and getting ready for the long drive home (one hour left!).

So, in the meantime, I leave you with this picture of one of the more awesome art exhibits we found on the playa. This spaceship was one of the more prominent features in the playa and served for a useful navigational landmark in our late-night wanderings. This shot was taken in the wee hours of the morning, after we successfully stayed up the entire night just to watch the sunrise. (That bright structure nestled up in the hills to the right, by the way, is the Man himself, standing ready for his imminent burn.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Grand Unified Theory of Work

I propose a new theory: the Grand Unified Theory of Work. The theory states that the duration required to complete a task--no matter how necessary or entertaining--expands to fill any time allotted to it. Which is to say that it is impossible to speed along your work at anything simply by spending more time on it.

I have heard simpler versions of this theory proposed in past; these earlier versions, however, relate only to unpleasant tasks, such as work or household chores. The novel contribution of my theory (making it both Grand and Unified) is the discovery that this property holds regardless of the enjoyment of the aforementioned task. Writing an essay? Cleaning your house? Writing your marriage vows? Laying tracks on your model train set? In my theory, the distinction is irrelevant. If you have ten free hours or a hundred, that's how long it will take.

This summer, I have had the opportunity countless experiments testing this theory. For the sake of science, I have taken it upon myself to perform a slew of activities in my everyday life. Practicing my guitar, working on my research, knitting, updating my blog -- despite the greatly-increased availability of time in my quotidian experience, I progress in them no faster than when living as a full-time student.

What a surprising result! I was expecting this summer to be an endless fount of blog posts, musical extravaganzas, and endless entertaining reading. I am now, however, quite uncertain as to where exactly my free time has gone.

These results propose some interesting followup research. Previous results had suggested that this effect was due to the inherent unpleasantness of the task to be performed -- given the opportunity, any sane person would put off working on a homework assignment until it became pressing. We now know, however, that there is some other limiting factor at work. Playing the guitar is fun! Writing blog posts is (arguably) entertaining! If it's not lack of time that limits these activities, what mysterious force is at work here?

A potentially more dangerous line of inquiry would address whether this affect can be manipulated. By taking on jobs with earlier deadlines, can one's productivity be thereby increased? Taken to the extreme, could a person with an infinite number of hobbies be infinitely productive?

We must explore this. For science.


In between conducting experiments, I have had the occasion to participate in a number of entertaining diversions this summer.

L and I walked through a magical door and were transported back in time to the 70s, where we went to an awesome music festival in remotest British Columbia.



















Also, I went to a wedding.












So that was fun.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I'm getting old

How annoying is it to hear 20-somethings complain about how they're getting old? How they just can't keep up the same lifestyle they used to when they were in college?

I've heard many, many people complain about how their bodies are mysteriously sore these days, about how they just can't go out and party every night of the weekend because they'll be too tired (what exactly do you remember college being like? I was exhausted all the time!). You'd think you were talking with a bunch of octogenarians in a retirement home rather than adults in more-or-less the prime of their physical lives.

I mean, c'mon! Renting (or owning) your own house, holding down a steady job, being socially independent -- those are signs of adulthood, not age! When you need hip surgery, I'll start taking you seriously.

That being said.

I'm experiencing an unexpected and foreign desire to have a quiet weekend in. My summer, so far, has been consisted of a plenitude of social activities, including an SCA event, a trip to LA to attend the IJCAI conference, an out-of-town July 4th trip, Joe's visit to Seattle, my sisters' visit to Seattle, trips to visit Eugene, and attending multiple roller derby bouts [delightfully, at the most recent bout, the audience actively and boisterously cheered when the announcer thank the Ninkasi brewery for their sponsorship], and myriad other, smaller trips. In the upcoming weeks, I'm going to the Shambhala music festival, a friend's wedding in Oakland, and Burning Man. Also, maybe camping.

In a global sense, I'm happy to have such a busy life and the opportunity (while I'm still young, dammit!) to explore my life and have fun.

But right now, I would really, really just love to have a weekend in where I can laze about my house, maybe watch a movie, and not do much of anything. This is strange, and disconcerting. I'm almost never a homebody, and I almost never want "alone time". But at some point over the course of this summer, my psyche's decided it's maybe had a bit too much stimulation and that I should just slow-the-hell-down, thankyouverymuch.

It's too late for that now, of course, but maybe I'll think about this a bit more the next time I have to make long-term plans.

And then maybe I'll have enough time to actually update this blog.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sundry tales of everyday life

I realize that it has been A While since my last post. The reasons for this lag are, in general, banal and prosaic; stories of final projects, moving apartments, and the sundry workaday requirements of life. I could not, in good conscious, foist such pedestrian tales upon my devoted readership without some interesting framing device or philosophical narrative, neither of which I felt sufficiently motivated to provide. Absent compelling external narrative my blog has lain fallow, devoid of content.

For this, Dear Reader, I apologize. Absent inspiration from the muse, this post shall serve simply as a brief update on my life. For those who know and love me and care about my every movement and activity, this post shall perhaps provide you with valuable information about my life and doings. For my teaming hordes of anonymous Internet fans, the biographical information contained herein may be somewhat less scintillating.

The most relevant detail, of course, is that I'm currently in Seattle. My research work, thankfully, is the kind of work I can do anywhere (contingent on availability of power and Internet) and I have no classes to take this summer, so I decided to pack up a car's worth of belongings and ship on up to Seattle, where L and I are Living In Sin. *Gasp!* In between Shambhala, Burning Man, and IJCAI, it seemed pointless to try and find a summer job ("I'd love to work for you guys, providing you let me take off one week in July, two weeks in August, a couple days in early September...").

So we're living a quiet, happy little domestic life up here. Cooking meals from scratch, practicing and refining my trombottle technique, catching up on my guitar, driving down to a friend's Roller Derby bout in Eugene. It's a pretty pleasant little life. And, to my great surprise, I've actually managed to do a fair amount of research in my spare time. Wild!

Tonight, to K and E's for game night and ice cream! Oh, the wild and crazy Seattle evenings.

I've never quite decided what the most appropriate answer is to tell people when they ask where I'm from. I usually answer "Oregon": after all, I was born in Portland and lived for eight (!) years in Eugene, longer than anywhere else. While that's a somewhat disingenuous answer--after all, I certainly didn't grow up in Oregon--it's a lot easier than having to explain the story of my childhood again.

Apart from functioning as an awkward tangent to my post, this is something that has come to mind as I settle back in to life in the Pacific Northwest. I like LA quite a bit -- it's huge and busy and full of interesting stuff to do. But there's just something about the cities and culture up north that I really appreciate and haven't really found in LA.

In my first weekend in Seattle, L and I visited the Fremont Solstice Festival, which is held every year in one of the weirder neighborhoods in Seattle. It was a delightful spectacle, full of naked bicyclists, crazy artistic floats (including an enormous floating replica of the Flying Spaghetti Monster) and myriad examples of possibly-misdirected creative energies (like the street-legal automobile that had been converted in to a spaceship, complete with attached laser guns and bells to warn off aliens).

Days before, I had attended the Last Thursday Art Walk in North Portland, providing a similar array of weird people and fantastical art displays. The processions of stilted passers-by surrounding themselves in a makeshift boat made of bedsheets was quite the thing.

It's not just art fests, I like, of course. As best I can tell, it's the general sense of comfortable weirdness that pervades the area (or at least the parts I hang out in) that really does it for me (or maybe that's just the "Keep Portland Weird" bumper stickers that make me feel that way).

LA's certainly got its weird subculture, of course -- I've never lacked for apealling social engagement. But it feels just so much more the dominant culture in the Northwest, not something I have to seek out and make an effort to find.

I suspect I haven't really been able to capture the essence of what I'm trying to communicate here, and doubt I really can. I like LA. I'm happy to live here for the next couple years and I'll regret no minute of it. But dammit, now I just wish it were that slightest bit cooler.

Oh, well.